ARDS and North Down Council is to write to roads bosses demanding changes to the way street repair cash is allocated.
Officials in the Department for Infrastructure’s Roads section have consistently assigned Ards and North Down the least amount of money in Northern Ireland for repair work.
That’s because spending on maintenance, repair and upgrading work is allocated according to the length of roads in any one area.
The more miles the roads network covers in a single district, the more repair money that district gets – so Ards and North Down, geographically small but densely populated and with some of the province’s busiest commuter routes, loses out.
Recent figures showed that this area is the pothole capital of Northern Ireland, with more defects reported here than anywhere else in the province.
Now the council is to write to the DfI’s Permanent Secretary, Julie Harrison, demanding that she change the criteria by which money for road repairs is handed out.
It’s the brainchild of councillor Robert Adair, who during a council meeting last Wednesday night argued that the pothole problems will never be tackled as long as the current funding criteria is still in place.
“We need to address the heart of the matter and get to the root of the problem,” he said. “That issue is that Ards and North Down gets the lowest amount of money in Northern Ireland.
“The potholes aren’t going to get any better, the roads aren’t going to get any better, until we address that issue.”
The problem was first unveiled two years ago, Mr Adair said, which led to the council writing to then-Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon asking for the criteria to be changed – but nothing was done.
He added: “You only have to go to Ballymena, go to Fermanagh, and see the wonderful roads that these areas have. We’re asking for our fair share of the funding.
“Ards and North Down continues to get a raw deal. This is the fourth largest population in Northern Ireland, we’re close to Belfast, we’re a tourism area; I believe that we deserve better.
“It’s not fair that our ratepayers have substandard roads. We are suffering from chronic underinvestment.”
The idea won widespread backing among councillors, with Mr Adair’s DUP colleague, alderman Stephen McIlveen, stating that several roads in his Ards district are ‘completely worn away, down to base levels’.
SDLP councillor Joe Boyle argued that ‘there needs to be a sea change in the DfI and in the Executive’ while councillor Eddie Thompson pointed out that the council is often blamed for the state of local roads, even though roads all across Northern Ireland are handed by Stormont.
“Our constituents see the news [in the rest of the UK], where councils are responsible for roads,” he said. “They assume we’re the same, but we aren’t. It’s why we have to keep this lobbying going.”
The council unanimously agreed to write to the DfI’s Permanent Secretary asking for funding criteria to be reworked.