‘Bleak’ times ahead as services rationed

LIGHTS OUT!. . . Car lights illuminate Bradley Pass in Shantallow last winter as many street lights went unrepaired.
LIGHTS OUT!. . . Car lights illuminate Bradley Pass in Shantallow last winter as many street lights went unrepaired.

Severe rationing of routine maintenance in Derry and Strabane will continue into this winter, officials have confirmed.

Transport NI representatives made the stark admission that they had no new money as they appeared before Derry & Strabane Council’s Environment and Regeneration Committee in Strabane on Wednesday.

Delivering their six-month report, they confirmed that despite major flooding earlier this week, gully emptying was reduced from twice a year to once a year in urban areas.

Des McFarlane, Transport NI’s Network Development Manager also confirmed that only potholes over 20mm in depth and on roads which carry over 5,000 vehicles a day would be fixed.

Grass cutting meanwhile has been slashed from five times a year in urban areas and twice a year in rural areas to just once a year everywhere, and weed spraying has been cancelled across the district.

Mr McFarlane said that many councillors will be familiar with the issues resulting from Department for Regional Development’s maintenance budget being slashed.

He said: “Many of you will have had discussions with Transport NI staff over the last number of months. They will have been able to tell you the money isn’t there. Unfortunately that is the case.”

He added that in terms of street lights this winter, “there is going to be a similar scenario as before”, and urged that any outtages are reported as soon as possible.

Committee chairman, SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said “depressing might be a bit of an understatement” for what they have just heard, and expressed particular concerns over the bleak outlook for street lighting this winter.

Sinn Fein Councillor Tony Hassan claimed most of the flooding this week was caused by a lack of gully clearing, while his party colleague Councillor Kevin Campbell said the “deluge of rain” on Monday showed the area was not prepared for flooding.

“We need to be looking at an emergency response,” he pressed, adding that there had been difficulties in accessing services for residents in the Little Diamond and Lecky Road areas among others.

Officials responded that while they were not ruling out a few of the gullies having been blocked, the whole system was overloaded at the time due to the intensity of the rain, with even manhole covers being lifted by the force of the water.

SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins said she had just left the scene of an accident in an area of Ardan Road where grass was obscuring the view.

Robert McCartney, Section Engineer for the local area, earlier outlined other road projects completed over the past year, including nine resurfacing projects on trunk roads at a cost of £2.3m.