Regional Transport Infrastructure — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:20 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:20 pm, 5th March 2019

I congratulate Dan Jarvis on bringing the matter forward.

We all know that a rising tide floats all ships, and certainly investing in infrastructure means that all the businesses in the vicinity are winners. Declining to invest in infrastructure means retaining a situation where rural communities are socially isolated, contributing to over-reliance on towns. The main town in my constituency, Newtownards, lies just short of 10 miles from Belfast City airport—the journey takes less than 20 minutes—yet I fear that my town does not benefit as it should from proximity to the airport, and the business and tourism that that should attract. I believe that is due to a lack of correct infrastructure in relation to the airport.

Whenever I have put questions to the Minister—I am always talking about connectivity with Belfast City airport or Belfast International airport—he has responded positively about the need for connectivity, but I want to emphasise this again. If we were to invest in the strengthening of routes directly from airports, that would allow businessmen to reach cheaper rental accommodation in Newtownards and other towns, and the local economy would benefit.

Another issue in my constituency is the coastal erosion programme. There are many roads around the Ards peninsula where I live, and in the centre of the constituency, where high tides and the weather conditions cause a lot of erosion, yet the methodology for responding seems to be reactive rather than proactive. I do not fault the Department, but I ask that we look for future aspirational projects that could address the issues. Northern Ireland is at the bottom of the table in relation to spend per head throughout the United Kingdom. There is an historic lack of infrastructure. I do not want to insult anyone’s intelligence in this place, but of course the fact is that over 30-odd years there was a campaign in which the IRA destroyed everything it could, including as many places as it could.

We have moved on, thank the Lord, but when I look at my local towns’ potential and the state-of-the-art office space, UK-wide connectivity and low business rates, it is clear that while short-term issues must be addressed so must the long-term goal of showing the world that Northern Ireland is the place to invest in business. It is the place to produce television shows and locate a high-class graduate labour force, as well as an abundance of admin staff. It is the cyber-security region for the whole United Kingdom, and we have more people employed in that work. That is an example of what we are doing right.

One of the keys to unlock global attraction is the ability to connect easily, both globally and UK-wide, and we simply have not yet come close to unlocking that potential. I would like an extension of the city deals, which the Minister will be aware of, although he is not directly responsible for them. Last night, the stronger towns plan was put forward, and those projects will link towns and cities to the markets that are available. This place is where action must be spearheaded, and I look to the Minister to understand how and when that can be done.