Rail upgrade a success for NW people power: Durkan

Foyle MP Mark Durkan.
Foyle MP Mark Durkan.

Derry MP Mark Durkan has hailed Transport Minister Danny Kennedy’s announcement of £27m of funding for the Derry-Coleraine railway as a success for North West people power.

However, Mr Durkan has also said we should not have to keep relying on “rearguard lobbying” to remedy flaws and aberrations in investment planning and delivery.

He also criticised advice given to the Minister by officials and Translink which, he claims, has resulted in losing key months in the run-up to City of Culture 2013.

“The Minister deserves some credit for the good work he has now done to help remedy the deplorable implications of the position which he previously stood over. It can be said that he has made good on undertakings which he gave personally and publicly to see if it was possible to progress work on the line with an earlier timeframe. Perhaps, more importantly, he has made good on the strong arguments and sound advice which he had received from the North West – including at the meeting which he attended in the Guildhall.

“Our case was that, even with budget constraints, the advice and options given to him and his predecessor by officials and Translink were not the only way of looking at things or advancing this project. We stressed that the compelling regional priority or this rail line and the City of Culture timeline meant that the capital budget plans both within DRD (including Translink) and more widely could and should be re-profiled.”

Mr. Durkan said he was being assured by sources close to the Minister that the budget re-profiling from the A5 relates to the spending time-cycle which is affected by factors such as the public inquiry.

“It is clear that the Minister will be telling the Assembly on Monday that this calendar spending window will equate to two months or less in A5 work terms but where it would arise in the annual budget cycle means that the Minister has concluded that such slippage could be recruited to expedite some of the key work on the railway line.”

The Minister’s announcement, said the Foyle MP, approved some of what could have been better planned before now and should have been.

“While we might celebrate a measure of success for North West people power, we should not have to keep relying on rearguard lobbying to remedy flaws and aberrations in investment planning and delivery. Had there been better budget transparency the North West public interest would have been alerted to these issues back in March which is when Translink and DRD say the decision to reduce to £20m and delay to 2014 was taken on the back of budget pressures.

“Instead, because this only emerged in August thanks to leaks to the Into the West lobby – the Minister has then had to take time to test and pursue wiser counsel he received from the North West than from the system – we have lost key months on a project that is so obviously time sensitive. This underlying point about weaknesses in the overall budgeting system and the need for greater transparency including through more upfront accountability to the Assembly should not be overlooked.”