Transport Strategy and Regional Transport Plans

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin 2:15, 16 April 2024

5. Ms Ferguson asked the Minister for Infrastructure for his assessment of how regional transport plans change how people commute. (AQO 283/22-27)

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

9. Mr Gildernew asked the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on when the transport strategy will be published. (AQO 287/22-27)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer questions 5 and 9 together.

Decarbonising transport represents the greatest challenge facing our transport network in recent times and will require public authorities and society to rethink our approach to travel. That provides an opportunity to reshape transport to better connect our towns and cities across the island and create healthier and more prosperous communities. To that end, I am working with my officials to bring forward a new transport strategy that I expect to consult on later this year. The strategy will provide an overarching framework to inform the Department's planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services through to 2035.

The strategy will provide a vision for transport that will allow people to choose the most sustainable transport option for their journey, whatever its purpose. Central to achieving that vision will be understanding the needs and opportunities in individual communities. For example, creating more sustainable transport options in Newtownards or Belfast will not be the same as it is in Enniskillen or Ballymoney. That is why my Department is working with councils and stakeholders in communities to produce a new suite of local transport plans that are centred on local transport solutions. That will include a focus on improving active travel infrastructure, reflecting our commitment to that area in the Climate Change Act.

At the regional level, a new transport plan for the strategic transport network will seek to ensure that people are able to access employment, healthcare and other services and create balanced economic growth across the North. The regional plan will look to improve safety and maximise the potential of our strategic network, particularly for public transport.

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin

Thank you for the update thus far. Will you also update us on the steps that the Department has taken to improve active travel?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

As part of a restructuring in my Department, a new unit has been created and supported to ensure that we are ready for the task of improving our expenditure on active travel. We are working with councils on their active travel plans as well. As the Member will be aware, we have to spend up to 10% of our budget on supporting active travel. Although not the primary reason for decarbonisation, active travel helps to improve people's health, mental health and well-being.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

Will the transport plans support the city and growth deals?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

The simple answer is yes. They are not only an integral part of the funding mechanism but a great way of working with councils. The local development plans of councils, as the Member is acutely aware, provide local democratic forums that know their communities better than anyone. It is about working in conjunction with the councils through their growth deals to ensure that we maximise investment and the progress towards ensuring that we have a transport system that is fit for the challenges of this century and the next one.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

In the transport strategy, we, obviously, want to see more decarbonisation of private cars. What plans do you have to introduce more electric vehicle charging points as part of the strategy, given that the lack of charging points is one of the biggest impediments to people buying electric vehicles.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Electric charging points in this jurisdiction are a commercial project and are driven forward by the commercial sector. I know that several companies are involved in that. My Department engages with them in order to ensure that there is an understanding of our planning system and that we overcome hurdles where we can. Obviously, each planning application has to be taken on its merits.

My Department simply does not have the funding for that project, but we are working with and encouraging the commercial sector to move forward with its programme.