North Antrim MLA Robin Swann has welcomed the news that the DUP Finance Minister has agreed to meet UUP Roads Minister Danny Kennedy to discuss funding for “the much-needed and long-overdue A26 dualling project”.
Mr Swann (RIGH|T) had asked Minister Kennedy for an update on any discussions he has had with the Minister of Finance and Personnel in relation to securing funding for the A26.
In his response to Mr Swann, Minister Kennedy said: “Given the delay in the A5 project and the funding that was subsequently made available, I wrote to the previous Finance Minister in May highlighting other schemes that could commence in 2014-15, including the A26 Glarryford to Drones Road scheme.
“In July, the Finance Minister announced funding for one of those schemes, the A31 Magherafelt bypass. I wrote to the new Finance Minister in August, within days of his appointment, requesting a meeting to discuss the merits and importance of the A26 project.
“I am happy to report that the Finance Minister, after initially declining to have a meeting, has now recognised the importance of an early discussion on the issue - the power of an Assembly question - and has agreed to a meeting.
“We are due to meet in the near future. I assure Members that, in parallel, I have promoted the scheme heavily in the 2014-15 capital budget exercise.
“I will continue to do so in the forthcoming October monitoring round with a view to securing the necessary funds to allow construction to commence in 2014-15,” said Minister Kennedy.
Responding to his party colleague, Mr Swann added: “Once again, I find myself welcoming a DUP U-turn. If the Finance Minister gives you an early green light for funding, when could work on the scheme commence?”
Mr Kennedy replied: “This is a serious issue, and a potential window of opportunity is coming towards us.
“It is important that I have an early opportunity to meet the Finance Minister. I know that there is widespread goodwill for the scheme to take place because of its importance to tourism in the north-west area, as it leads on to some of the major tourism sites in Northern Ireland.
“I believe that, for reasons of road safety, this is an important project. So, I do not want the serious issue of progressing the scheme to get lost in the hurly-burly of politics.
“Therefore, I want very much to indicate that, if we got a clear signal on the finance of the project, we could make something of a start on it in the next financial year.
“That is how important this is. Therefore, I think that we want to try to exploit that potential opportunity.”
Minister Kennedy then went to explain the importance of the meeting with the Minister in reply to another member. “The system is that, for any major project to be given the green light, finance has to be made available.
“That, therefore, is the importance of the meeting that I will now happily have with the Finance Minister. We will hopefully make progress on that to the benefit of everyone. Let us not lose sight of the objective here.”