ROAD repairs that were supposed to happen over the last eight months have been ‘left in limbo’ by Stormont allowing important contracts to expire. That’s according to one leading local councillor who made the comments after it emerged contracts for resurfacing and footpath replacements set out by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) ran out eight months ago. And the DfI doesn’t think it’ll be possible to appoint new crews and get the contract filled until later on this year – a situation that’s being made worse by the fact that the Northern Ireland Executive hasn’t met for months.
Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd admitted the full extent of the problem in a letter to Ards and North Down Council that sparked disbelief among local politicians when it came up for debate at a committee meeting on Tuesday night. Among those shocked was council chief executive Stephen Reid, who described the situation as ‘very strange’ given that DfI civil servants would have known the date the contracts were due to expire well in advance.
The chief executive also pointed out that neither the minister nor any of his officials had fully explained why the repair contract for Ards and North Down had been allowed to lapse, or why there was still no contractor in place to carry out the work eight months later.
Speaking before Tuesday night’s meeting, the leader of the Green Party wing of the local authority, councillor Barry McKee, told this newspaper that over the past months the DfI had repeatedly assured him that resurfacing plans were in place for specific streets in this area, only for nothing to happen. “In the light of this letter, it seems those schemes are in fact in doubt,” he said. “Many of the resurfacing schemes or replacement footpaths that were supposed to take place during the last financial year were not started before November 2021. I know of several that still have not begun and are now in limbo because the DfI doesn’t have a contract to deliver them.” Mr McKee pointed to one project that was supposed to fix up several residential streets between Belfast Road and Clandeboye Road in Bangor as evidence, revealing that in that case householders were notified work was about to start only for nothing to happen. “This is incredibly bizarre, and yet another impact of there being no functioning executive at Stormont meaning budgets cannot be agreed,” he said. “The public needs to be informed about these delays, and what exactly is going on to fix this situation. “It is simply not good enough for this to come to light via a letter to the council. I urge the minister to appoint a contractor, and make funding that has clearly been previously allocated available to ensure public works are completed.” Alliance MLA Andrew Muir revealed that DfI officials told him that awarding a new resurfacing contract has been delayed due to legal challenges, and that ‘a programme of works cannot be developed for the Ards and North Down area’ until those issues are cleared up. Said Mr Muir: “Any delay increases the risk of a serious incident taking place, and also impacts upon safety of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. “Motorists are also risking damage to their cars due to the dire state of some of our busiest roads. “The department needs to come clean and tell us the full story about why roads resurfacing has been held up – and what they are doing right now to fix it, and get action on the ground without any further delay.” The DfI was contacted about the contract issues and offered the chance to comment on what officials are doing to get local resurfacing schemes back on track, but there was no reply from civil servants by the time of going to press.