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News & opinion

7 SEP 2018

Northern Ireland construction and infrastructure projects hiatus ended

Following a protracted period of uncertainty for infrastructure development in Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Karen Bradley has today announced that she will table legislation allowing senior civil servants to take the decisions necessary to maintain public services in the region.

RICS welcomes this development and news that the legislation will be brought after the Westminster conference recess at the earliest possible opportunity.

RICS has previously warned of allowing a directionless drift to become the new normal in Northern Ireland, following a Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year that determined civil servants have no authority to advance strategic and regionally significant infrastructure projects in the absence of Executive ministers.

Since the collapse of Northern Ireland’s political institutions in January 2017, the delivery of high quality infrastructure projects has been placed in stasis. The decision of the Department for Infrastructure to grant planning approval for an Energy from Waste incinerator in county Antrim was overturned in subsequent legal proceedings, placing a complete freeze on new development across the region.

Projects including the North/South interconnector, vital to Northern Ireland’s future energy security, and the delivery of the A5 and A6, critical to road safety and economic development in the North West cannot be placed on hold.

The preferred outcome remains the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. The principle that decisions on investment, infrastructure, housing and construction are best taken by locally elected decision makers remains persuasive. In the absence of negotiations to restore an Assembly and Executive, however, RICS has called for the UK government to intervene to ensure critical decisions on infrastructure are taken and projects advanced in a timely manner. Today’s announcement is good news for Northern Ireland.

As the bank of current infrastructure projects runs low, Northern Ireland’s construction industry needs clarity and certainty from government about future workloads. RICS would further call for clarity around the ability of departments to adopt international standards in construction that will enhance our infrastructure offering and improve the way projects are delivered and accounted. It’s critical that we remain at the front of innovation rather than simply maintaining current practice.

RICS looks forward to examining the draft legislation and contributing to the restoration of limited decision-making functions at the earliest opportunity. The scope of the power afforded to local civil servants is important and will determine how much work can be undertaken to secure the local project pipeline.