Derry protestors are set to march en mass on Stormont if demands for the full upgrade of the Derry-Coleraine rail line are not met by 2013.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy said he remains committed to the project but told political representatives, lobbyists and business leaders in Derry this week that it cannot be completed in time for the City of Culture year even if the money was made available immediately.
In the last Executive then Transport Minister Conor Murphy announced a “major track relay project” by 2013 with an estimated cost of £65m (now estimated around £75m due to inflation). However, just £20m has been allocated in the current spending round (2011-2014) “to allow the project to start in 2014” due to budget constraints as a result of the economic crisis., the Department for Regional Development minister said.
A special meeting of the minister and Derry City Council along with MLAs, MPs, business leaders and lobbyists was called by Mayor Maurice Devenney this week after it was announced that work planned by Translink for the route has been shelved.
Minister Kennedy told the delegates he was “fully committed” to the project and that he would hold talks with his ministerial colleagues, including Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, in an effort to source funding for the project. However, he said that even if the money were available now “we are not in a position to complete the upgrade before 2013”.
But SDLP Councillor Gerard Diver said the lack of progress was an “affront” to the people of the city, adding that the shortcomings of the rail link would be “hugely embarrassing for Derry as City of Culture in 2013Sinn Fein Councillor Pol Fleming said: “Not only do we need the project to go ahead but we deserve it to go ahead.”
DUP MP Gregory Campbell called for a high powered delegation to meet the finance minister on the matter. “We’ve got to find the money and get the job done as soon as we possibly can,” he said.
Foyle MP Mark Durkan suggested that the additional £52m plus required to make up the shortfall in funding could be drawn from surplus monies from other projects across departments. He added that the completion of the new rail link was part of the prospectus submitted for Derry’s successful City of Culture bid. “The other cities we were up against for the title, like Norwich, Sheffield and Birmingham are still smarting that they lost out to Derry, so it is unthinkable that this will not proceed.”
It was agreed that council seeks an urgent meeting of key ministers, including the first and deputy first ministers, the finance minister and the minister for regional development.