Persisting For The A2 Upgrade PDF Print E-mail

During Oral Question Time in the Assembly,  David Hilditch asked the Minister for Regional Development if the A2 upgrade project will be included in his review of the spending priorities for the strategic roads improvement programme. (AQO 920/11-15)

With your permission, I would like to reply to questions 3, 6, 8 and 10 together as they concern similar or related issues.

As you are aware, the A5 and A8 dual carriageway schemes have been taken forward as a result of an agreement between the Executive and the Irish Government. At the North/South Ministerial Council plenary meeting on Friday 18 November 2011, it was noted that provision of more funding by the Irish Government for progression of the A5 and A8 projects is being deferred and that, in that regard, the Irish Government will provide £25 million per annum in 2015 and 2016 towards the project. The relevant Departments are now preparing a new funding and implementation plan for the two projects for agreement at the next NSMC transport meeting, with endorsement at the next NSMC plenary meeting. That process will, undoubtedly, affect the funding that is available to my Department and, therefore, potentially, delivery of the strategic roads programme.

When the funding is confirmed, I will review spending priorities across the Department, including the impact on the strategic roads programme. That will address the progression of schemes such as improvements to the A2/Shore Road in Greenisland and the A6, which include the sections between Londonderry and Dungiven and Randalstown and Castledawson. The Dungiven bypass is an element of the larger A6 Londonderry to Dungiven dual carriageway scheme. Funding has not been provided specifically to commence that scheme in the current budget period.

My Department’s Road Service expects to publish an environmental statement draft direction order and draft vesting order in early December 2011 for the 30 km dual carriageway from Londonderry to Dungiven, including the dual carriageway bypass off Dungiven. Publication of those orders will invite formal comment and objection, which will most likely lead to a public inquiry in 2012 to examine the case for and against the scheme. Roads Service has advised that there is no merit at this stage in decoupling the Dungiven bypass element of the overall project. If deemed necessary, it could be done at a later date. The issue will be kept under review

David Hilditch (DUP)

Bearing in mind the state of readiness of the A2 and the £16 million cost that has been attributed to the scheme, are we not in a position to help the building industry by looking seriously at that and by making some announcements in the next few weeks

Danny Kennedy (UUP)

I again acknowledge the interest of the Member, his constituency colleagues and the local councils that are involved in the A2 scheme. However, before construction work can begin on site, it will be necessary for several important stages to be successfully completed. Those include a pre-qualification competition for suitable tenderers, the subsequent tendering procedure, and, finally, the preparations by the successful contractor to commence work on site. It is envisaged that the minimum time needed to complete those procedures is one year.

 

 

 

 
Hilditch Supports Northern Ireland Libraries PDF Print E-mail

Mr Hilditch: Considering the timing of the consultation, it is appropriate that we debate the issue, and I welcome the opportunity to do so today. The delivery of library services has been under close scrutiny in recent times, with reviews of not only urban and rural branches for potential closure but opening hours and, of course, the future scrutiny of mobile services. So there is quite a lot going on in the organisation; some might say, “Too much”. That has lead to a certain amount of confusion and fear in the service and among the public, who see the overlapping of those reviews as a tactic to, perhaps, dilute front line services. At times, it appears to a lay person that it is a case of, “If we do not get you one way, we will get you another”. That said, the reprieve that many local libraries received is welcome, although, again, I understand that some are conditional on circumstances being improved through repairs, renovations and even new premises, with partner agencies required to allow their continued existence.

 Mr Swann: We continually refer to the eight libraries that have been saved. However, it would be remiss of the House not to take into consideration the two libraries that face closure. The Minister should take them into consideration when considering mobile library provision in the future consultation.

Mr Hilditch: Thanks for the intervention. I certainly agree that they should be taken into consideration.

I certainly agree that mobile libraries are not the answer, and I appeal to the board to look at alternative facilities.

Having survived one review, many libraries have been suddenly and quickly thrown into another; this time, a review of opening hours. That is disappointing to say the least, and, as a result, worries and concerns have resurfaced very quickly. The communities that rallied round in support of their local service a few weeks ago must do so again in a short space of time with no respite. Having had their fears dealt with previously, staff face uncertainty again. Although many of us recognise that Libraries NI’s actions are a reaction to budgetary matters and the comprehensive spending review, we ask what measures or efficiencies were progressed in the service before it was agreed to go for front line services as a way of making efficiencies and savings. What other detail is available from the board, through its management structure from the top down, to show that maximum opportunities have been taken to ensure that front line services are the very last thing to be hit in its attempt to achieve those targets? It is a shame that many communities whose library has been under threat, having developed a range of opportunities, such as reading programmes, writing groups, language classes, internet access, family learning activities and much more, are once again threatened with a reduction in opening hours of up to 50% in some cases. Surely those facilities must be given the time to develop and the opportunity to prove themselves and their worth to each community.

Many villages and towns across the Province are undergoing the master plan process. The Minister will know that, for some of those villages and towns, that process is well developed, with plans published and actions under way. All our Departments and agencies are being brought into the plans and are intent on delivering for communities. One example is Whitehead, which is a rural community in my constituency. Surely in a case such as Whitehead, with a newly refurbished facility, it is premature to consider a substantial reduction in opening hours while all agencies in that area are deliberating on how they can deliver a sustainable community infrastructure for the town. It is clearly the wrong message to send out to residents and other agencies that may use the facilities in that town for the delivery of services outside the box. Whitehead is only one example of that type of community planning, which is also ongoing in other areas of the Province, and I appeal that, in these circumstances, reviews are halted and community plans are allowed to develop. I urge the Minister to take appropriate action to ensure that the facilities and services of all our local libraries are sustained with as little disruption as possible.

 

 
Public Prosecution Service Should Press Charges PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch has supported the teenager who was attacked at Downshire Train Station last year and would like to see the Public Prosecution Service pressing charges.    He spoke to Wendy Austin on the Talk Back Programme on Monday 24th October.  To hear more logon to:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b016bk1c/Talkback_24_10_2011/

 

 

 
Scrutinising the criteria for the Boiler Replacement Scheme PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch questioned the Minister for Social Development on the reasoning behind the criteria for the Boiler Replacement Scheme.

The rationale for the pilot Boiler Replacement Scheme was to offer assistance to older householders on low income who missed out on other energy efficiency improvement Government schemes such as the Warm Homes Scheme. All potential Boiler Replacement Scheme beneficiaries have been identified and have been contacted by leaflet. A budget of £2 million has been set aside to fund 1,330 boiler replacement installations.

 
Hilditch Questions the Finance Minister on Peace Funding PDF Print E-mail

I thank the Minister for his statement. Given the community imbalance, does he anticipate a further programme and, perhaps, a potential change of direction for Peace funding?

Sammy Wilson(DUP)

I have given information to the Assembly this morning that there was some distortion because of the £8 million for the Ilex bridge. About half of the programme funding is still to be allocated, and about 60% of the applications will come from what is broadly described as the Protestant community. I hope that the final figure will be much more balanced than the figure that I gave this morning.

I have found no resistance — in fact, I have found great support — from Ministers in the Irish Republic, I have also made it clear at the sectoral meetings that they expect SEUPB to ensure that funding is allocated on a basis that is seen to cover all the community. I want to make this point: I do not wish to see quotas for the money. I have resisted that time and again, and I hate the whole equality industry that has grown up in Northern Ireland. However, in unionist areas, such as the one that I represent, there are groups that could benefit from Peace money and could do a good job with it and make a difference in their area, but they are perhaps not getting it at present. I want to remove the barriers — whether those groups believe that they will not get it so do not bother applying, or whether it is a matter of the difficulties that were referred to by the Member for North Belfast - so that the funding can go to the communities that deserve it and to the communities that should qualify for it anyway.

 

 
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