Northern Ireland

Wilson announces more than £580m investment in roads and hospitals

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

Sammy Wilson confirmed almost £600m of investment in the assembly on Tuesday.

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

More than £28m 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.

Mr Wilson said that the investment will have "significant economic benefits for Northern Ireland", including the creation of 2,500 jobs in the construction sector.

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

The finance minister 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.

First Minister Peter Robinson said: "We Note that the Republic's government has expressed a long-term commitment to the A5 project, but cannot contribute beyond the two payments of £25m at this time.

"We are therefore reprofiling the construction and doing much of the heavy lifting in the early years of the project.

"Our package will see work completed on two significant sections of the route. This will allow the Irish government to review its future funding as soon as is practical for them to allow us to complete the route."

'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.

Image caption £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.

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