Further hopes for Armagh’s campaign for a rail link have been raised tonight (Thursday) after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lent his support to recommendations to improve and extend the rail network across Northern Ireland.
And now the UK Government is inviting the Northern Ireland Executive to work together on ambitious plans for transport infrastructure, and to “plan and deliver vital improvements to local and national connections”.
Prime Minister Johnson tonight underlined his commitment to stronger transport connections across the UK, as the UK Government published Sir Peter Hendy’s independent Union Connectivity Review.
Sir Peter recommends that the UK Government works with the Executive to agree a plan and funding to upgrade the railway across Northern Ireland, including better connectivity to the three airports and seaports.
Prime Minister Johnson has today committed to forging and strengthening transport bonds that will create a more cohesive and connected United Kingdom.
Such high-level support for the improvements of the Northern Ireland rail network will be a real shot in the arm for the Armagh to Portadown rail link campaign.
Just this week, Armagh I revealed that Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council had gone out to tender on a technical study for the re-opening of the line.
But of course the issue of funding the reintroduction of a line – which closed in October 1957 and could cost in excess of £100m to restore – has been key to the viability of the project.
The completion of technical studies and feasibility studies would ensure the project is ready to move along when funding would become available.
And now with the UK Government openly supporting the improvements and extension of a local network it has brought the once believed impossible train connection to within reach.
As the UK Government publishes Sir Peter Hendy’s final report of the Union Connectivity Review, the Prime Minister has underlined the importance of better connections – on both local and national transport networks – to bring all UK communities within closer reach of social and economic opportunities.
The Prime Minister has particularly welcomed, and intends to accept, the proposal for the creation of UKNET – a strategic transport network spanning the entire United Kingdom.
The recommendations for Northern Ireland include supporting the Northern Ireland Executive to develop, fund and implement a long-term pipeline of improvements to transport infrastructure.
The Review recognises that people in Northern Ireland want public transport options that are fast, affordable, safe, modern and — crucially — frequently available for the journeys they make. The UK Government says it is committed to making those improvements.
Sir Peter recommends the UK Government agrees a plan, in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Executive, to upgrade rail infrastructure across Northern Ireland, citing historic underinvestment across the network.
The UCR also asks the UK Government to work with the Executive on the All-Island Strategic Rail Review, to improve regional and strategic rail connectivity across the whole island of Ireland.
Sir Peter proposes that this includes better connectivity to the three airports and seaports, as well as to and from Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.
Over three million journeys were made on the Derry/Londonderry railway line in 2019 and the UK Government says it is “committed to making it work for everyone who needs it”.
Prime Minister Johnson said: “Modern, reliable and rapid transport connections across all parts of Northern Ireland and with the rest of the UK are crucial for levelling up opportunity and driving economic growth.
“We will carefully consider Sir Peter Hendy’s pioneering proposals, and I look forward to working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to identify the road, rail, sea and air links that can better serve the people of Northern Ireland and bring our great nations even closer together.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps: “The strength of our United Kingdom is built on modern, rapid transport connections, bringing together our closely woven, ambitious nations, and providing opportunity and prosperity to everyone.
“Our task is to transform these recommendations into action, and we’ll work tirelessly with the Northern Ireland Executive to do just that.
“I am indebted to Sir Peter for his work, which has resulted in important proposals with the potential to strengthen the ties that bind us, now and for the future.”
The independent Union Connectivity Review was launched in October 2020, led by Sir Peter Hendy CBE, to undertake how a detailed review of the quality and availability of transport infrastructure across the UK can support economic growth and quality of life.
The recommendations published include:
* The UK Government should design and implement UKNET – a strategic transport network for the whole of the UK, and commit to providing additional funding to improve the network, in particular the parts that are not performing well.
* The UK Government should plan improvements to the network using multimodal corridors, which should be reviewed regularly and appraised on a wider economic basis in order to support government objectives such as levelling up and net zero.
* The UK Government should support the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in parts of the United Kingdom that are particularly reliant on aviation for domestic connectivity.
Independent Chair of the Union Connectivity Review, Sir Peter Hendy, said: “My recommendations provide comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom, leading to more growth, jobs, housing and social cohesion.
“I welcome the enthusiasm shown by the Prime Minister and the Government to my final report and I look forward to their formal response to my recommendations, which aim to spread opportunity and prosperity right across the United Kingdom.”
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis said welcomed developments.
He said: “A more connected United Kingdom will super-charge Northern Ireland, levelling up local communities, continuing to drive economic growth and establish national connections.
“This review has brought forward recommendations that will build a more ambitious and prosperous Northern Ireland, and I look forward to working in close collaboration with the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver new opportunities through ambitious transport infrastructure.”
The UK Government will now carefully consider the Union Connectivity Review in detail.
It has also invited the Northern Ireland Executive to “work collaboratively to identify the solutions which work best for the people of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK; and make tangible and meaningful progress as swiftly as possible”.
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