More than £20m of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the long-awaited York Street Interchange project since it was commissioned in 2007 – despite the project not breaking ground yet.
The project aims to transform traffic flow at the intersection of the Westlink, M2 and M3 – Northern Ireland’s busiest road junction. It is estimated to cost between £120m to £165m, meaning that around 14% of the project’s entire predicted budget has already been spent.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show that £10,000 was spent on the scheme in the 2007/08 financial year, and this rose to an annual high of £4.9m in 2017/18. In the 2020/21 financial year £2.3m was paid out.
Much of this money has gone towards consultants for the project, which has been marred by delays and legal action.
It is unclear when construction on the scheme will actually begin, as a review was conducted in November last year into its viability, with Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon approving its recommendations last month.
Ms Mallon said that consultants are now carrying out further work and are due to report back in the autumn. This means it is likely that construction won’t break ground until 2022 - at the earliest.
Alliance Infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir said: “The York Street Interchange is an important project for Northern Ireland that has been beset by avoidable delays at great expense to the public purse.
“I support the minister’s decision to ask consultants to look again at the scheme and ensure that it meets the needs of local communities and greater access for pedestrians and cyclists, but this must be progressed apace.
“The fact that this and other major capital projects are bedevilled with delays needs to be addressed, especially as the department has recently been given increased monies to deliver many more capital projects.”
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said: “The York Street Interchange project is a Strategic Road Improvement scheme that will provide a fully grade separated interchange to replace the existing at-grade signal controlled junction of the A12 Westlink, M2 and M3.
“As a multi-million pound scheme, it is a hugely significant project for the economic and societal well-being not just for Belfast but for the region. The costs associated with the development of the York Street Interchange scheme are in line with expectations for an infrastructure project of this magnitude.
“The department fully complies with every aspect of spending public money guidance.”
While Ms Mallon published the recommendations arising from the review last month, she did not make the actual paper itself public.
This led to calls for her to do so “in the interests of transparency”.
Ulster Unionist infrastructure spokesperson Roy Beggs said: “At the very least the report which has been given to the minister from the review of the scheme should be published so that the public can have some understanding why the earlier public investment in gaining planning permission is not being acted upon and may now be written off.
“If a better scheme can be produced at a lower cost, the public deserve to have some idea of what is being planned.”
Recommendations of the review include ensuring current costs are updated to act as a benchmark to inform any decision on future alternative development and for “much closer” co-ordination both within DfI, and between DfI and other relevant departments and interested parties.
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