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Minister hails £12m roads investment despite budgetary cuts

Priority road projects across the south Armagh area have been abandoned due to a lack of funding, it has been claimed.

The assertion was made as Roads Minister Danny Kennedy hailed the completion of road projects in the area of over £12 million in the past financial year.

It followed the presentation of a report to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, delivered by TransportNI officials.

Sinn Féin Councillor Terry Hearty has blasted Roads Service as he claimed it had been “abandoning rural communities.”

Mr Hearty was speaking after a meeting with the Roads Service Divisional Manager in which he presented the Annual Spring Report.

The Slieve Gullion representative dismissed the report as a “box ticking exercise” and said rural communities were now paying for the Department’s “gross mismanagement of its budget”.

“I was hugely disappointed with the report that Roads Service presented to the council,” he said.

“A number of projects which we had identified as priorities had been removed from the report while others had never featured at all.

“In particular the junction at Creamery Road leading on to the Newry Road has been removed despite being identified as a priority project for two years. Similarly, the junction at the Lough Ross Road onto the Blaney Road, which we have been campaigning for improvements at for years, wasn’t even mentioned.

“These were key projects which councillors like myself, who live here and listen to the people here, had identified as being of the utmost importance for the safety of motorists and pedestrians, and yet some Belfast bureaucrat just dismissed them with the stroke of a pen.

“No consultation with local people or representatives, just penny pinching and corner cutting.

“They claimed to want the feedback of local representatives on priority projects and then they came down here with a nice glossy report that totally dismissed our concerns and suggestions.

“The whole thing was a farce, a box ticking exercise.

“All departments are dealing with budget cuts but none have mismanaged their budgets as badly as Regional Development. Road maintenance is only a tiny part of their budget and yet it seems to be the first thing cut.

“Rural communities feel as if they have been totally abandoned by Roads Service. Grass isn’t cut, corners and junctions are blind and potholes only get deeper and wider.

“Rural people are paying for the gross mismanagement of the department’s budget and if some of these roads get any worse people are going to pay with their lives. If something isn’t done soon many of these roads are going to become impassable.

“Rural people are being treated as second class citizens by this department; indeed the only department doing anything for them is Michelle O’Neill’s through the Rural Development Programme. Right across the south rural communities are organising, standing up together and fighting back.  I think it’s high time rural communities in the north stood with them.”

But Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has commended roads staff and contractors for the successful completion of road schemes in 2014/2015 which accounted for £12.2million investment in the roads infrastructure in the Newry, Mourne and Down council area.

The Minister also said that his Department was facing £60 million of cuts in 2015/16, more than half of which will fall to TransportNI, which is having a significant impact on services in particular maintenance activities in all areas.

The Minister said: “As it stands, my budget does not provide for sufficient service provision in areas like repair of potholes, street lights and traffic signals and other measures such as gully emptying and grass cutting at junctions.

“As a result, my Department has no option other than to cut back on the routine maintenance of the network. There will be no funding available for external contractors to carry out routine road maintenance, however, the Department’s internal workforce will be providing a skeleton service for the first part of the year, at least.

“Road inspections will currently continue as normal, however, only the highest priority potholes will be repaired. Gully emptying and grass cutting services will be provided on a reduced scale.

“There will be limited weed control, maintenance of white lines and only one quarter of the required resource available to repair street lighting outages. Contractors will still be employed to carry out electrical inspection and testing of street lights and the repair of hazardous electrical and structural defects.

“I will be making a strong bid for resource funding in monitoring rounds to return routine maintenance services to normal levels.”

But despite the cuts, Minister Kennedy said a range of road improvement and maintenance schemes are planned or already complete in the Newry, Mourne and Down Council area.

He added: “The impact of current resource budget pressures on my Department is affecting routine maintenance of the road network; however capital budgets are less affected.

“Departmental officials will continue to develop resurfacing and traffic management schemes, to enhance safety, to improve traffic flow and provide measures for pedestrians and cyclists.”

At the meeting, Southern Division Manager, Simon Richardson, outlined a number of improvement and maintenance schemes that were completed in 2014/15.

He said: “I am pleased to note that sightline and junction improvement schemes completed include B8 Hilltown Road, Mayobridge (Murphy’s Corner); Loughinisland Road with the Tareesh Lane, Annacloy and the Magherhamlet Road with the Dunmore Road, Spa.

“Other significant areas of work completed by the Division include a bridge replacement scheme at Ballyfannaghan Bridge, Cullyhanna as well as the provision of vehicle restraint system on the Flagstaff Road, Newry.

“The safer routes to school initiative delivered enhanced high profile flashing amber light signs on approaches to St Patrick’s Primary School, Mayobridge; Windsor Hill Primary School, Newry and Annesborough Integrated Primary School.”

“Approximately 99 lane kilometres of carriageway was resurfaced in 2014/15 at locations including A2 Newry Road, Kilkeel; A21 Main Street, Saintfield; A21 Saintfield Road, Ballynahinch; A25 Newtown Road, Belleek; A25 Castlewellan Road, Rathfriland and A27 Tandragee Road, Newry.”

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