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Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has been reflecting on her first year in office a year that saw plans put in place for a flood alleviation scheme in Newry, new electric bike legislation and a £66m contract for zero or low emmision buses.

Minister Mallon is looking forward to building on successful partnerships to deliver economic and societal opportunities for citizens across the island of Ireland. The Minister is also pledging to plan for the first ever Infrastructure Youth Assembly to put young people at the heart of building a better future.

Speaking as she looked back on her first year in office the Minister, Nichola Mallon, said “What a year it has been. Coupled with challenges, the Covid-19 crisis and the uncertainty of  Brexit, every aspect of our everyday life has changed. Despite the difficulties of the past ten months, staff in the Department for Infrastructure have pulled together to get the job done and I am grateful for their dedication and commitment in maintaining and delivering public services.

Nichola Mallon, Infrastructure Minister.
Nichola Mallon, Infrastructure Minister.

“Across the Department we have been focused on supporting the health fight back against Covid-19 by ensuring free travel for our NHS heroes, transforming our DVA test centres into Covid-19  testing sites and working in partnership to deliver vital public services that keep everyday life going while maintaining social distancing and observing the restrictions in place. 

“I have worked to deliver on promises in New Decade, New Approach, by recommending that planning approval for a new stadium at Casement Park in Belfast be granted, giving the GAA its home in the North. I’ve advanced the A6 ensuring that drivers can now travel swiftly and safely between Belfast and the North West. I’ve worked in partnership with the Irish Government to extend the feasibility study on high speed rail to Derry – Belfast – Dublin – Limerick – Cork, opening opportunities for connectivity across our island, while working to end regional imbalance and unfairness.

“We also know that as well as Covid-19 and Brexit, we are facing on this island,  a very real and serious threat from the climate crisis and we absolutely all need to work together to cut emissions and build a cleaner and greener society. That’s why I’ve transformed the focus of my Department from just roads to now encompass rail, from emissions to focusing on zero emission, from driving to walking, cycling and wheeling. 

“Delivering on this pledge I have announced 145 low and zero emission buses – a first in Ireland. I have set up a £20m fund for blue/green infrastructure  to promote active travel and support the transformation of communities by providing and improving cycle ways, footways and green/ blue spaces that will encourage people to walk, wheel and cycle as part of their everyday lives. I’ve announced new park and rides, greenways and a dedicated Walking and Cycling Champion at the heart  of my Department to embed the cultural change that we need and that our society deserves.

“Infrastructure is key to unlocking our potential on this island not just for connectivity but for economic opportunity. To really maximise the opportunities, we have to be strategic in our thinking, ambitious in our goals and work in partnership with society to deliver the change our people desire and deserve. That is why I set up a Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure, made up of a small group of independent experts and key stakeholders with a passion and interest in infrastructure who have produced a compelling report for me on how an Infrastructure Commission can support the long term planning and development of our infrastructure across our island. This presents an exciting opportunity to deliver more for our citizens and unlock the potential of infrastructure investment on our island. 

“At the heart of my efforts has been a real focus on improving the lives of our young people. The test of my work in office has to be, ‘have I paved the way for change for those who come behind us?’. That is why investing to deliver 20mph speed limit schemes at 100 schools across Northern Ireland, partnering with schools on road safety initiatives and investing in active travel opportunities has been so important. I can also pledge today, that now in 2021, I will be bringing forward plans for an Infrastructure Youth Assembly where young people can for the first time, have their say on how we should be building for a better future. 

“Looking back on 2020 there were many challenges but also many opportunities and I’m proud that my Department has worked to build a greener, cleaner, fairer future on our island post Covid-19. This year we will continue our work to progress transformative all Ireland projects including the iconic Narrow Water Bridge which will open up our island as we face into new and unprecedented challenges. I remain focused on the delivery of strategic corridors including the A1, the Ballynahinch bypass and many others, alongside an ambitious active travel agenda and legislative changes to crack down on mobile phone usage while driving. 

“In this short mandate, there is much my Department has achieved but there is much, much more to do. My focus is on the delivery that communities here deserve.”

Key achievements

  • £66million contract for 145 zero and low emission buses to deliver Green Recovery.
  • Completion of work at North-West Transport Hub.
  • Construction work underway at Belfast Transport Hub.
  • Planning approval recommended for new stadium at Casement Park.
  • Full planning permission for the North South Electricity Interconnector granted.
  • Contract awarded for new Northern Ireland Planning IT System.
  • Permitted development rights for fracking removed bringing benefits for businesses and the environment.
  • Change to legislation to prevent suspected drink drivers from trying to evade prosecution by delaying testing.
  • New legislation to exempt vehicles of historic interest from MOT testing.
  • New Legislation permitting Electric bikes to be used on public roads in Northern Ireland without the need for registration, licensing or insurance.
  • £16.5m investment in the construction of  a new Driver & Vehicle Test Centre and Depot at Hydebank, Belfast to enable emission vehicle testing.
  • Introduction of new Commercial Licensing System (CLS) for bus and taxi-industry.
  • £20m blue/green infrastructure fund.
  • A6 (North Western Transport Corridor): A6 Randalstown – Castledawson substantially completed.
  • £1.1 million extension to the M1 bus lanes completed.
  • £420,000 bridge replacement scheme at Glenrandal Road, Claudy completed. 
  • Confirmation Orders signed for £17.85m Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme; £6.5million Shimna Flood Alleviation Scheme in Newcastle and £2.9m Flood Alleviation Scheme in Newry. 
  • £19m financial support for taxi-drivers and private bus and coach operators.
  • 100 schools to benefit  from the part-time 20mph speed limit scheme.
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