Northern Ireland’s roads will be just fine…

At times like these when cool heads are needed, informed debate necessary and calm reflection required, I fear BBC Nolan is much more hindrance than help. Another example occurred last Friday.

The programme opened with the news that our budget for roads repair will run out at the end of October, leaving us with no maintenance for five months. “What are you paying your taxes for?” yelled Mr Nolan. The outrage was further stirred with a range of leading questions to people on the streets: “Everyone is outraged, we know you want to be like everyone, so tell us how outraged you are!

Okay, that latter was not a direct quote, but it may as well have been.

At no stage was there even a hint of proper analysis. So let us try some, in the no doubt vain hope someone will consider it…

Firstly, the notion that our roads will collapse to rack and ruin if we do not maintain them for five months is just ludicrous. I drove on roads near Rome during the summer which were so bad that you could fail to maintain Northern Ireland’s for thirty years and they would still be better. We really need to get over this “We’re uniquely terrible” syndrome!

Secondly, no attempt was made to assess how much maintenance was carried out this summer (during the first half of the financial year) when the weather was quite good and circumstances were better for it (and yes, by the way, the weather was good – cf. the aforementioned syndrome). On my journeys around the place I could hardly move for road closures (i.e. roads closed for maintenance). On my regular trips around Belfast, Newtownabbey, Bangor and Lisburn I enjoy new surfaces, new lights, new roundabouts and other obvious improvements all delivered recently. Even right now there is an off-peak lane closure near where I live to complete work on a route which was closed all summer. So how much of this is down to packing all the work in earlier in the year? How much work is generally done during the winter months anyway? I do not know – not least because Nolan never bothered to find out and tell us…

Thirdly, why are we paying our road tax? Well, it was interesting that they chose Derry for their vox pops. Through to the end of the decade, hundreds of millions will be spent upgrading roads in and to the North West, delivering an expressway/motorway all the way from Belfast to Derry except for the Glenshane Pass and a small additional section between Maghera and Castledawson. This road building will be ongoing through the rest of this financial year (although, obviously, not as much will happen during the winter months, as noted above…)

Fourthly, what do we pay our taxes for? What do we pay our taxes for? Well, a Health Service free at point of access delivering the best cancer survival rates, dementia diagnosis and renal services in the UK; a welfare system including triple lock pensions (potentially with additional mitigation versus the rest of the UK); an education system from age 4 to 16 (usually 18) delivering the best results in the UK; business development services bringing millions into the economy from tourism and media to agrifood and bio-science; free roads, waste removal and civic amenities; wide-ranging leisure and cultural programmes; police and fire services; diplomatic assistance… that enough for you?! Considering the average earner doesn’t pay income tax on half their income, the average household pays half as much in rates as the rest of the UK pays in Council Tax, and we get everything from prescriptions to water infrastructure thrown in for free, it’s hardly a bad return really…

Northern Ireland’s roads will be just fine. And we really should try putting real analysis ahead of faux outrage just once in a while.

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2 thoughts on “Northern Ireland’s roads will be just fine…

  1. GAVIN BAMFORD says:

    Interesting to note that the two adverts generated from this article are for Rimmer Spare Parts. Spare parts that could be used to fix eg suspension after hitting potholes.

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