THE Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has told councillors that there isn’t “any more money for major projects” like the long-awaited Ballynahinch Bypass. Representatives of DfI Roads’ Southern Division presented their 2023/24 annual report to a special meeting of council last week, and the issue of the bypass – the infrastructure project was officially paused in August – was raised.
The report noted that the direction order for the 3.1km, single two-lane carriageway – with a projected cost of between £40m and £50m – was made in July 2021, and that ‘development work has been substantially concluded, including preparation of a draft business case’. ‘In August 2023, the department published a prioritised list of major road schemes that will continue to be progressed and all other schemes paused, and their place on a future major works programme will be informed by emerging transport plans and a decision by a future Infrastructure Minister,’ it read. ‘Regretfully, the A24 Ballynahinch Bypass has currently been paused.’ Presenting the report at the meeting, Divisional Roads manager Mark McPeak stated that the draft business case “cannot be submitted until more certainty on funding is achieved”. Terry Andrews (SDLP, Rowallane) highlighted that the council had endorsed a notice of motion – which reaffirmed its support for prioritising the bypass – he had tabled in September. “My motion called for funding and resources,” he said. “I know the project is shovel-ready and I know there are other projects like the A5. “With the Ballynahinch Bypass shovelready, could consideration be given to getting that much needed project going? “Ballynahinch, at the minute, is strangled with excess traffic going through it to and from the Mournes. “In relation to the budgetary constraints on DfI Roads, is there anything could be done at permanent secretary level to get the much-needed funding that is held up somewhere?”
Responding, DfI’s deputy secretary Colin Woods said that he would like to “illustrate some of the challenges that we are managing and you have acknowledged”. “From a capital budget, which is how we fund our major projects, this year we received an allocation of about £792m, but that was about £146m short of what we needed to deliver this year’s works, right across Roads, Rivers, NI Water and Translink,” he stated. “When you are dealing with that big a shortfall, it very much constrains your ability to find ways to progress different pieces of work. “So, the decision to prioritise our major roads schemes was driven largely by that budget shortfall and the lack of multi-year budgets that allow us to plan with more confidence into the future.” Mr Woods added that what had been prioritised in August was “essentially a list of things that an Executive has already agreed to prioritise”, including Executive flagship schemes and Belfast Region City Deal schemes, including the Newry Southern Relief Road. “There isn’t any more money for major projects after that, but it is absolutely not the case that we don’t see the value that other schemes, including the Ballynahinch Bypass, would bring in terms of the quality of life,” he said. “Our issue, as Mark says, is we’ve largely completed the preparatory work, and the only thing to do now is wait until you actually have a credible funding plan to take it through the final stages of the process. “If we were to do more work and start that – and hope that the money arrives and then find that the money doesn’t arrive – you have potentially wasted time and public money in work that will have to be repeated when you come to actually deliver the scheme in subsequent years.”
Callum Bowsie (DUP, Rowallane) voiced his disappointment that Ballynahinch Bypass was not prioritised in August. “There are very few towns in Northern Ireland, I would say, that are gridlocked to the extent that Ballynahinch is in the evenings,” he said