SDLP Infrastructure Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has expressed serious concern that the delivery of winter services will be impacted by the Department for Infrastructure’s (DfI) budgetary pressures.
Following a briefing with departmental officials last week, it was revealed there is an allocation of £4 million to deliver winter services for 2022/23, despite a £6.63 million expenditure for gritting roads over the 2021/22 winter period. The department previously stated that this year’s cost of gritting salt was expected to rise by 22%.
Speaking as the Met Office issues yellow warning for ice and snow across Northern Ireland, Mr Durkan said:
“It is patently clear that budget pressures are severely limiting the department’s ability to respond to the demand for winter services. The potential consequences on road safety doesn’t bear thinking about. In December we witnessed a week of icy weather, weather which in my opinion, the local roads provision was not sufficiently equipped to deal with. My office was inundated with requests for grit box refills which couldn’t be accommodated and roads went untreated as the staff were forced to prioritise blue light and main routes. Access to grit during these periods was like gold dust. As prices for salt increases, that’s unlikely to change.
“This is by no means a reflection of the great work carried out by DfI staff on a daily basis. They’ve been forced to meet increasing demands on a greatly diminished budget and that’s a reality which applies right across the board, affecting not just winter services but pothole repairs, resurfacing works and road safety measures to name a few.
“At last week’s cross-party briefing, department officials outlined in no uncertain terms that the finite £4million budget for winter services would have significant implications on future planning for adverse weather conditions. It doesn’t get much starker than this, increased disruption and risk of danger on our roads this winter is the reality. We need an Executive in place to mitigate these risks and prevent government departments from making not just incredibly tough decisions but decisions which up until now, would’ve been deemed unthinkable. MLAs need to get back to work to deal with this and the multitude of other issues piling up as a direct result of the DUP's Stormont boycott.”