Minister Protects Fares, Improvements And Community Transport In Budget

Infrastructure Minister, John O'Dowd, has protected concessionary fares, community transport funding and planned improvements to the Coleraine-L'Derry rail line in the department's budget allocation.

Speaking as the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA), which sets out the initial assessment of the impact of the budget on spending proposals for the 2024/25 financial year, was published, the Minister said he was committed to prioritising essential front-line services and addressing regional imbalance.

Minister O'Dowd said: "Years of underfunding and austerity by the British Government mean these are challenging times for all departments, and Infrastructure is no different. I will be looking towards the June monitoring round and will continue to work with Executive colleagues to explore all avenues of investment but, for now, I am focusing on protecting essential services, delivering positive change and addressing regional imbalance.

"I am doing so by maintaining concessionary fares for the over 60s, ringfencing funding for Coleraine-Derry phase three rail improvements, by investing in the A5, A1 safety improvements, the A4, the A29 Cookstown Bypass and the Newry Southern Relief Road.
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"As a department, we have had to critically examine all aspects of spend. We have taken and will continue to take difficult decisions to prioritise what we can deliver within our budget envelope, which means to protect concessionary fares a nominal fee will be introduced for first time applicants and 60-64 year olds applying for a Smartpass."

The Department's budget for 2024-25 allocates £559.5m for resources and £820m for capital, with the majority for regulated, statutory, fixed or contractual purposes. NI Water's allocation includes £137.7m for resources and £323.6m for capital, along with £875k ring-fenced for EU Peace Plus projects. Translink is set to receive £245.8m, with £80m dedicated to the Belfast Transport Hub, £6.4m for Enterprise replacements from EU Peace Plus funds and £4.7m allocated for Coleraine to Derry~Londonderry Track Renewal.

All allocations are indicative at this stage and will be confirmed or amended upon consideration of the EQIA.

Commenting on the allocations for NI Water and Translink, the Minister said: "None of us are getting the funding we would have liked, due to underfunding by the British Government, and for that reason we must all prioritise essential services along with health and safety, while maximising service delivery within the resources available."

Concluding the Minister stated: "I encourage everyone to provide their comments to the EQIA. Getting infrastructure right can deliver real benefits for our citizens, communities and the economy. I am working with my officials on a clear prioritization of schemes over the next two years, which will put the department on a steady footing to make the best possible use of our resources to make a positive difference for all of our citizens."

The consultation period ends on 6 September 2024.

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