£580m investment 'sustains 3,000 jobs' - Peter Robinson

Edwin Poots, Martin McGuinness, Peter Robinson and Danny Kennedy spoke to the media at Stormont

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First Minister Peter Robinson has said a £580m investment in roads and hospitals will create or sustain thousands of construction jobs in NI.

The finance minister has revealed a series of capital investments in hospitals and the road network.

He told MLAs that £330m will be spent upgrading two sections of the A5 between Londonderry and Strabane, as well as Omagh and Ballygawley.

Mr Robinson said it was a "very good day for Northern Ireland".

He said the investment would "allow potentially 3,000 construction workers either to maintain their job or to have employment created for them.

"That will have a significant impact on our road infrastructure in Northern Ireland and indeed in health care in Northern Ireland."

On Monday, it was announced that 255 jobs were to be cut in Armagh and Belfast by call centre company HCL and 36 in Markethill by Unicorn Mouldings Ltd.

Mr Robinson said: "It Is just so frustrating we are bringing in more jobs than ever but at the other end we are losing them because of the global recession.

"That obviously means we're having to run very fast to stay still."

More than £28m of the investment will be spent on the Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry and about £60m will go to the new Omagh Hospital and the Ulster Hospital.

That money will accelerate the building of the new Omagh hospital and phase B of the development of the Ulster.

Another £57m will be spent on improving the A2 Carrickfergus to Belfast road and £105m will go towards the A8 Belfast to Larne dual carriageway.

Analysis

The announcement of a scaled-down A5 is good news for those construction companies - some local such as Farrans, Grahams and FP McCann - who had been awarded contracts.

It was always likely that some work would proceed because the money was allocated and the project was ready to go. The reduced scale has freed up money for a mothballed upgrade of the A2 along Belfast Lough at Greenisland and the new investment at Altnagelvin hospital.

The construction industry will be pleased with the executive predicting 2,500 jobs. But the headline spend on infrastructure has not changed from what was planned.

In other words, it would have been much bigger story had the executive decided not to proceed with any of these projects.

The details of the investment came after a morning meeting of the executive at Stormont Castle.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the executive had to deliberate over spending decisions after the Irish government decided to revise its funding commitment to the A5 and A8 road schemes.

Mr Wilson said the Irish government had previously committed to providing £400m towards completing these schemes over the next three years.

The difficult economic circumstances facing the Irish Republic, however, meant the figure was revised to £50m to be spent between 2014-16.

'Good news story'

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the funding was a sign the executive is working for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"Today is very much a welcome good news story," he said.

"Today's announcement also means that thousands of jobs will be created in the construction sector."

He said the economy was "like a cork bobbling about in a raging ocean. Every now and then we get some very bad news".

"It's a very clear signal that we're going to continue to battle against the odds."

The managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, John Armstrong, warmly welcomed the announcement and said he believed there were many more job opportunities in the plans than those outlined by Mr Wilson.

"However, if the executive is truly determined to rebuild and rebalance the economy, we believe it must urgently take decisive action to reverse the substantial declines in funding for capital investment," he said.

Economic catalyst

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who has responsibility for roads, called the investment a "significant boost to the local economy".

"It will provide job security for many and create much needed jobs in the construction industry, across environmental and engineering consultancies, suppliers, contractors, infrastructure specialists and others," he said.

A5 £330m will be spent on upgrading two sections of the A5

"In the longer term it will serve as a catalyst for wider economic growth. If we want Northern Ireland to prosper we have to construct the infrastructure to enable us to compete effectively."

The £28.5m allocated to the improvements at the Altnagelvin Hospital was welcomed by Sinn Fein MLA in the city, Raymond McCartney.

"Over the past few years capacity at the hospital has been under pressure and this new wing will help relieve that strain and allow more people to avail of treatment closer to their homes," he said

Alliance MLA for East Antrim, Stewart Dickson, was happy to see work on the main Carrickfergus to Belfast road being funded.

"I have campaigned for decades to have the A2 road upgraded and this great news will help significantly cut journey times for the thousands of commuters who use this route every day," he said.

Meanwhile, the SDLP has signalled a shift on its stance over the executive budget.

Last year, the SDLP voted against the budget and just on Monday the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party would continue to oppose the latest stage of the budget bill.

However, on Tuesday the party's finance spokesman Dominic Bradley said that - in the light of the capital spending announcements - the SDLP was prepared to be more generous and were "not minded to be oppositional".

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