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Allister Makes the Case for A26 - and Welcomes Belated DUP Support

15 June 2011

Below is the text of Mr Allister’s speech during the debate on the A26 in the Assembly yesterday (Tuesday

I begin by congratulating Mr Swann on his maiden speech. We look forward to his raising continually the issues that, of course, affect all of us who live in and represent North Antrim.

One of the cardinal issues that have afflicted the constituency is the state of the A26, which has been a constant bugbear for residents and visitors. We have seen false dawns and expectations rise only to be dashed. At this moment, we still live with the reality of an utterly inadequate road. Yet, it is one of the main arteries in our Province, has one of the highest daily vehicle usage figures, and, as Mr Storey said, has a tragic death rate. A number of us in the House know and think today of people who have lost their lives on that road. So, it is not just some abstract thing that we are talking about. It is a pressing, urgent necessity that we address the inadequacy of road provision.

Indeed, it is probably a reflection of the significance of roads issues and the inadequacy of some roads that we have probably debated the issue of roads more than anything else in the House since the start of this mandate. That in itself points to underinvestment, which is a legacy of the last Executive, and that legacy now falls to the current Minister to address.

The issue is not just about convenience and about getting to the north coast faster. It is, in effect, about developing the economy of north Antrim, because there is an inextricable link between good road access and economic development. It is no coincidence that Ballymena, to which we have good road links, has seen industrial growth. Yet, if you drive the further miles to Ballymoney, you will see a dearth and a loss of industrial growth. That is not a coincidence. Ready access is a big contributory factor to the economic attractiveness and viability of any town.

However, when you impose on a town such as Ballymoney the restraints and inhibitions that arise from that dreadful stretch of road from Glarryford to the town, do not be surprised that it is hard to attract necessary investment.

Mr Storey: I see the point that the Member is making; it is a change from what he said during the election, when he accused the Investment Minister over the problems in Ballymoney. Having roads there is important, but how would Tyco, Sherwood’s, Ballymoney Foods or the Fleming’s factory have benefited from the road’s being a dual carriageway? Is it not also the case that commercial decisions were made —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member speak through the Chair, please?

Mr Storey: Unfortunately, those decisions affect Ballymoney and should be included in his comments.

Mr Allister: Of course commercial decisions are relevant, but commercial decisions to expand are aided if there is a good roads network. Therefore, I am surprised that the Member intervenes to argue against himself and the cause of improving the A26.

Let me pick up on his point. He made reference to comments made during the election. Yes, there is a definite nexus between economic development and a good roads structure. The Minister himself represents an area that has shown the benefits of that. We have had a huge economic focus on the Belfast to Dublin corridor. The natural consequence of that, and this is where the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) Minister played her part, is that we have seen a disproportionate pouring of investment into industrial parks and other ventures in proximity to those roads. Before the election, the DUP Minister poured yet another £38 million into the industrial park in Newry, but not a penny for Ballymoney. That is the point that I was making.

I appeal to the Minister, being a beneficiary of a good roads structure in the southern part of the Province, to take pity on his poor northern cousins. He can move himself to spread to the northern part of the Province the largesse that has given the southern part of the Province a good roads infrastructure.

The scheme is, essentially, ready to go, but it has stalled. The stalling of the scheme is not just a frustration; it blights those whose lands are affected. Farmers were co-operative in the process and not obstructive as some have been elsewhere. We arrived at a scheme that is viable and tolerable for all concerned. However, an inevitable consequence is that their land is now blighted by that planned expansion.

In the name of the farmers, I say to the Minister that time is not on our side; we need to move on this issue. In the scale of things, £50 million is not a huge amount of money; in the scale of the extravagance of the A5, it is but nothing. It will not break the bank of the Department for Regional Development (DRD), but it will do a great deal for the future of that very important part of Northern Ireland that is north Antrim. I urge upon you the necessity of giving it all the priority that it most certainly deserves. As I said, at present we have the worst of all worlds: a promise unfulfilled, a blight on the landowners and yet no product. We need product on this matter.

Mr Storey’s intervention provokes me to welcome the fact that he has returned to supporting the A26 project. A few months ago, he and Mr Frew, who, I hope, now supports the project again, voted for a Budget in the knowledge that that Budget under that Minister would scrap the A26. By his vote in this House in support of that Budget — I am glad that the Minister cannot be accused of this — he was prepared to downgrade the project and see the scrapping of the A26. It is to be welcomed that Mr Storey and, I trust, Mr Frew, have returned to full support for the A26. Together we might see it delivered.

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