Category Archives: Economy

What the NIO should do now…

What should the Northern Ireland Office do to resolve the current impasse with the Northern Ireland institutions?

Easy, actually. Implement the Smith Commission proposals. Here! Now!

The link gives the details, but we can run down specifically what that would mean:

– Memorandum of Understanding for managing different tax/welfare structures (this enables differentiation if that is the route Northern Ireland chooses);

– devolution of Income Tax (on earned income), Aggregates Levy alongside Air Passenger Duty (if Northern Ireland doesn’t want “austerity”, it now has all the tools to raise taxes to make up the difference itself, and stand or die by these decisions at Assembly Elections);

– assignment of first ten points of VAT to the Northern Ireland budget (this has the effect of promoting policies favourable to value-added economic activity, as much of this will add to the NI budget);

– non-devolution of Corporation Tax (as Northern Ireland has not fulfilled the obligations of the Stormont House Agreement, some penalty should be paid);

– reservation (i.e. un-devolution) of pensions and benefits to do with parenting or low income alongside tax credits (it makes sense to do these across the UK anyway);

– reservation (i.e. un-devolution) of equality laws (it has taken too long for Northern Ireland to tidy up its equality legislation and so makes sense to share best practice across the UK);

– maintenance of devolution of disability benefits with removal of ‘parity’ requirements (this is Nationalists’ key concern apparently, and they now have the aforementioned tools to raise the money themselves from their own voters to pay for any differentiation, including the administration of a different system, without having to pay for the entire system);

– representation of Northern Ireland interests by Northern Ireland ministers directly to European Union (this is particularly important in Northern Ireland given our land border); and

– replacement of cross-community Assembly votes with two thirds super majorities (also now used in Westminster for certain specific votes under the Fixed Terms Act).

The Barnett formula and ‘consequentials’ would of course be maintained, and logically the baseline for welfare payments would be set within it (this would most sensibly be done at the New Year 2012 level, before the Welfare Reform Act, effectively adding £300 million to the NI Executive’s annual budget – a politically feasible amount for the Treasury). This means that Northern Ireland starts from a baseline position of public spending at around £2,000 more per head than the UK average plus an extra welfare subsidy – but if it chooses to move any of that up or down, that is its choice, and it pays for or gains from that as appropriate. The welfare ‘crisis’ would be resolved – some powers would be withdrawn, but others would be maintained and ‘parity’ in effect ended.

So, problem solved – because as a package, I suspect this would find support among the Northern Ireland parties:

– Nationalists can claim victory by securing abolition of parity (with a £300 million welfare subsidy), ‘devolution of economic control’ and ‘more power in Irish hands’ (they could hardly turn down the chance to deliver on ‘no one loses out’ by maintaining DLA as is, having now been handed the fiscal tools to raise taxes to pay for it…);

– Unionists can claim victory also for the welfare subsidy and for ‘protecting the Union’ by securing directly equivalent devolution models (and the DUP would no doubt relish the opportunity directly to pursue its low tax model, albeit with the obvious consequent reductions in public spending…); and

– Progressives would also welcome the effective removal of ‘designations’ (they may remain but would be irrelevant, with protections now offered by super-majority votes) and may then pursue the logical progression of a government/opposition model using that super-majority protection.

Most importantly than any of that, the public would now see the Assembly as much more transparent. It would have to raise money from the public directly if it wished to raise public spending or welfare protections; but it would also have the opportunity to offer reduced taxes if it wished to encourage public sector efficiency, private consumption and tackling of individual/corporate debt. The public would be better informed, civic society would be challenged, and political debate would become meaningful (Scotland would even act as a direct comparison).

Real politics, I believe it is called… that is why I strongly believe the NIO should do this, and do it now!

Follow the lights to economic success…

Just take a quick glance at the below.

Lights

The big bulks of red are all you need to know.

In Europe, in particular, there is a dense red line from London through the Dutch rand (Rotterdam and Amsterdam), the German Ruhrgebiet (Dortmund, Essen, Gelsenkirchen etc), Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich and over the Alps to Milan.

That is a map of connected devices in the world, but it also shows where economic power is thus concentrated. All Europe’s economic focus is on that corridor – innovation hubs target it, government transport policies prioritise it, people seeking a better life are sucked towards it. These just happens to be the cities and regions where GDP/capita is 50% or more above the EU average. They are the ones to which we need to be connected.

Continue it north west from London and you do indeed get Birmingham, Manchester, and yes the east coast of Ireland. We could join the connection! Arguably, Dublin is already there but Belfast lags.

Yet look at the departures board at either Belfast Airport! You may see Amsterdam but you will see none of the others.

It is time we got to know Frankfurt and Milan as well as we know Fuengirola and Marbella…

Corporation Tax reduction impossible without tackling Division

The case for a Corporation Tax reduction was seriously hindered by the delay in implementing Welfare Reform. There are all kinds of reasons for this – not least that any delays in the latter cost money in so-called (but not actual) “fines” paid out of the NI Executive account to the UK Treasury.

I am not at all sure, however, it is wise to link the two at all. Rather, Corporation Tax reduction should be linked to tackling the Costs of Division.

This is not because there is a link between an open, shared, multi-cultural society at ease with itself and successful enterprises – although there is, of course. It is because the Executive needs to prove it can reform public services and make them more efficient. “Costs of Division” is a prominent, easily measurable, easily identifiable means of demonstrating this.

Fundamentally, the Executive has a choice to make. Is it going to tackle the Costs of Division?

If it is not – and so far, it is not (it cannot even save £2.2 million on unnecessarily segregated and inefficient teacher training) – then it needs to admit it will never have highly efficient public services and will have to accept that hindrance when attracting potential investors. Those investors will be entering a permanently pillarised society where social, political, educational and potentially even economic choices are dictated along ethnic fault lines, about which they will have to learn. Many will not be bothered with the hassle, of course.

If it is, then it will have to prepare to take on the vested interests and deliver real reform. That does not just mean taking on the interests of independent teacher training colleges (who will have to merge into Universities in this new, efficient world which requires fewer teachers trained anyway to free up space for engineers and designers). It ultimately means a change in direction, where no public service provider of any kind is able to deliver that service other than in an open and integrated fashion. In practice, the Costs of Division will not be saved overnight; but this would begin a process guaranteed to save hundreds of millions a year, while also delivering a wider understanding of diversity among the population and thus a more open society in which people (either from inside or outside Northern Ireland) may consider investing. Such a society would be one in which it would be worth the risk of £325 million a year for reduced Corporation Tax, and in which that money would already be in the process of being saved from the overall devolved Budget.

Without tackling the Costs of Division, the reduction in Corporation Tax is unaffordable and close to pointless, as we would not be in a position to capitalise fully on it anyway (thus the risk inherent in it increases). This is not just a budgetary point; it is a point which emphasises that open, tolerant societies are in any case the likeliest to develop prosperity. In other words, Good Relations and a Good Economy (in every sense) are inextricably linked…

The case is clear. Who is going to make it?!

Where the Unions have a case

There are many problems with the Unions’ current tactics in Northern Ireland, but the largest of them is the range of various (and occasionally even competing) demands they are making. The problem with this is it reduces support for any of their case – after all, despite its large size, most people do not work in the public sector and even many who do recognise it is too large and needs significant reform.

There are two specific areas where, it is clear, public sector workers have a case.

Public Transport

This is a straightforward case that the Assembly has not budgeted properly and has left Translink underfunded.

It is a serious problem, because once you begin cutting routes you will only continue doing so – this is, after all, precisely what happened to the railways right across the UK.

Seemingly “unviable” routes are essential to keeping currently viable routes viable. People travelling on viable routes are often doing so to get to connections on the “unviable” routes. Take out the “unviable” (typically peripheral) routes, and it is like taking a table leg from a table.

In addition, those who use public transport are disproportionately those who are working but on low income – the very group who need services most. Withdrawing them will make it harder for people to get to work (or even to take jobs in the first place), harder for people to get to leisure opportunities (making them more inclined to stay in, with effects on health etc) and harder for people to access services themselves (many rely on public transport for hospital appointments, job interviews and so on).

To be clear, Friday’s strike was wrong because it punished the very people with whom the Unions should be building a coalition on public transport funding. However, the basic case stands.

Teachers’ Pensions

The issue of Teachers’ Pensions specifically is one where Unions have catastrophically failed to make their case.

Pensions themselves are not a legitimate public sector gripe. Public sector pensions were set up in an era of people working from 16-65 and then expecting to live, on average, only another 5-10 years; by the late 2000s, people were working 21-65 and then living another 20 years. There is not enough filling in the sandwich – the final salary pension scheme had effectively become, on average, three times as expensive but contributions into it remained much the same. This meant it had to be subsidised by taxpayers, most of whom cannot dream of the same arrangements (as no company can make the same guarantee with people living so long after retirement), when there were ever fewer taxpayers as a proportion of the population to start with.

However, the arrangement for teachers’ pensions specifically is outrageous. Here, teachers have been let down by the campaign in general because their legitimate pensions issue has been lumped in with less legitimate public sector gripes in general.

The problem is specific: teachers now lose 5% of their pension for every year early they retire. Far from being encouraged to retire, they will have to work all the way to 68; retire even at 60, and they lose nearly half their pension.

This is ludicrous, not only because teaching is not the type of job you can reasonably be expected to keep at for fully 46 years, but because it reduces the gaps in the system for younger teachers to enter (rendering decisions to train too many even more ludicrous, of course).

There is no issue with people being expected to retire later and contribute more – this is, in fact, necessary. The issue is with the outrageous share of the pension lost for every year short of retirement age. To be clear, it is not only teachers who should be enraged by this – young people, again denied access to the job market in key professions, should be furious too.

The Government is indeed doing some mad things – but when we protest, we need to be specific about what they are and about how they can be put right!

Mythbusters – “Taking us back to the ’30s” and other nonsense

I am pleasantly surprised at how readily people in Northern Ireland are seeing through some of the nonsense put out by outdated Socialists posing as trade unionists over the past few days.

Let us be clear, Trade Unionism is a good thing. It remains essential that employees can unite to oppose poor work practices, discrimination and unfair pay. Many Unions remain constructive and effective.

Unfortunately, some Trade Unions are allowing their agenda to be set by people with outdated political ideologies rather than the real interests of workers at heart. It is, for example, completely impossible for a true advocate of workers to defend the current welfare system in Northern Ireland, which openly impedes people (potential Union members!) from entering the workplace.

It is noteworthy also that the Unions were so unwilling to publish exactly what the vote was for strike action; or to public their Leaders’ salaries; or indeed to publish exactly what the goal of the strikes is.

Let us, for the record, dismiss some of the nonsense…

“These cuts are taking us back to ’30s levels of poverty”

My father grew up in a series of orphanages in the 1930s, so I find the notion that any worker suffers anything remotely close to the circumstances in which he grew up personally insulting.

The origin of it appears to be the suggestion by a senior Conservative that government spending as a share of GDP should be 35%. Someone, somewhere noted that it was 35% at the end of 1939. However, it was actually 36% in 2001, after a full term of a Labour Government!

This is to leave quite aside the point that making the correlation between government spending as a share of GDP and levels of poverty is ludicrous.

“This is the bankers’ fault, so why should we have to deal with it?”

Even if the crisis is the bankers’ fault, it is specifically the fault of lax banking regulation.

But here’s the thing – we all gained from lax banking regulation. It enabled us to take out mortgages we would never otherwise have been allowed; to go on two holidays every year rather than one holiday every two; to buy a premium brand car. It also enabled businesses to pay for new offices, improve terms, and take on new workers. All of this greatly increased the tax take – in VAT receipts, National Insurance contributions and corporation tax. But none of this was “earned” (the UK did not suddenly become a more innovative, export-driven country) – it was borrowed.

When the system fell apart (what you borrow you must eventually pay back after all) and stricter banking regulation was imposed (quite rightly on the Unions’ own terms) this meant it became tougher to keep up the mortgage, tougher to spend on leisure, and tougher to manage car repayments. Businesses could not access credit (banks had to keep more deposits), take on new workers (as there was no case for taking the risk) or even tread water (as customer spending collapsed because people could no longer borrow). As a result, Government tax receipts vanished.

This means two things. First, we all gained from the boom and thus it was inevitable we would all suffer from the bust. Second, Government is not excluded from this – just as every household and business has had to trim down and cut out inefficiencies, so must the Government. This latter is even more important since the Government now receives less in tax as households and businesses reduce spending as a result of not being able to borrow; and also because in theory the Government itself cannot borrow so easily (although, for complex reasons, the UK and a few other countries have not had this problem).

“This is about public services”

If it were about public services, you would not withdraw them causing great irritation and inconvenience.

No, it is about fear among public sector workers that their pay and jobs are less secure. No one would not sympathise with this. However, as noted above, it is the same for us all. Let us at least be honest about it.

“This is about low-paid public sector workers”

Yet apparently it is also about the loss of “20,000 well paid jobs”…

“We are taking 20,000 well paid jobs out of the economy”

There’s that “out of the economy” line again. They are not being taken “out of the economy”, because the economy already pays for them – the salaries, most of the pensions, all the added extras (including workplace, training etc) are paid for by the tax payer. If the job no longer exists, the tax payer will no longer have to fund it and the money will go back into the pot.

“This is about the tax dodgers”; “This is about the Stormont House Agreement”

Well it cannot be both, for a start! The Stormont House Agreement is about devolved institutions which do not have tax powers.

As I have discussed many times before, the rate of conviction for tax evasion is increasing and the UK is in fact better at collecting tax and stopping evasion than most (notably better than Ireland and Germany, for example). Yet even if the UK managed to get to zero tax evasion (which no country does), it would still be averaging a 2.2% trade deficit every year – in other words, it would still be becoming poorer versus the rest of the world. That has consequences – not least on the availability of revenue to pay for public services.

This is the crux of the problem – for every 20 strikers, there seem to be 21 different reasons for being on strike.

“It’s about the politicians…”

Then why are you allowing politicians from the parties implementing the budget reductions on your picket lines?!

To be clear, some of the reasons for frustration among public sector workers are entirely legitimate. This only makes it worse that those legitimate reasons are being lost in a fog of populist deception led by people whose motivations are to do with political ideology (and, frankly, ego), not practical representation of workers and delivery of outcomes on their behalf.

Pretending private sector will grow with no reform of public remains cop-out

One of the features of today’s strike is the underlying notion that “It is not that the public sector is too big, but the private sector is too small”, often stated as “We shouldn’t get rid of 20,000 public sector jobs until we have private sector jobs to replace them”. Usually, advocates of this stance also oppose welfare reform.

This is a total cop-out.

The private sector can only create jobs if it is allowed to – most obviously, if people are encouraged to work in it.

The current huge public sector combined with a welfare system which actually impedes people getting into work directly hinders people from working in the private sector, and thus from having any chance to create further jobs.

Growing the private sector actually means encouraging people to work in it. The admission, even by the Unions, that public sector jobs are “high-paying” (it is funny how they say “low-paid” with regard to those on strike but “well-paid” with regard to the 20,000 jobs due to be cut through the Voluntary Exit Scheme…) is one impediment. Maintenance of a welfare system which pays even those who want to work to remain out of work is another. It is a disgraceful double whammy – and those advocating its maintenance are only trapping people in poverty, not helping them out of it.

It is perfectly understandable that so many people want to work in the public sector – it is, generally, where the best paid most secure jobs are. This reality cannot be left unreformed if we are serious about growing the private sector. To suggest otherwise is the ultimate irresponsible cop-out.

Attwood shows SDLP spiralling out of control

Northern Ireland’s answer to Natalie Bennett last week was Alex Attwood.

Early last week he stated clearly and without doubt that it was time to stop investment in south and east Belfast and shift it all to north and west.

Within hours he was contrite, going on the media to correct himself.

Firstly, but less relevantly, this showed what a mess the SDLP has become. One of its own leaders decided to go out on a limb without even contemplating the consequences for his colleagues. Demanding no more investment in one of your Westminster seats, when you only hold three, is the height of selfishness if nothing else.

Secondly, and more worryingly, it is total garbage. If Mr Attwood thinks he can direct innovative global firms with turnovers many times that of the entire Northern Ireland devolved budget specifically to invest in north and west Belfast, he has simply lost the run of himself. Besides, Belfast is in total just 100 square kilometres – it’s not exactly unknown for people to make the mammoth twenty-minute commute from one part of it to another and there are these wonderful things called buses and trains to help where necessary!

One thing which damages investment anywhere, in fact, is such ludicrous public representatives promoting such a ludicrous silo mentality. Until we forget these daft silos and promote Greater Belfast and all its people as a whole, we will never enable it to reach its full economic potential and create the jobs and wealth we need.

Just because something is unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue

“Just because something is unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue”. So said former world record triple jumper Jonathan Edwards about losing his faith, as it happens. However, the phrase has sprung to mind very often since I first read it, not least when looking at the local and global economy we live in.

As they got out the begging bowl to the UK Government in the Stormont Castle Agreement in mid-December, the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Ulster Unionists all put their name to a document which states:

  • “Structural level social divisions create inefficiency” (Paragraph 44)
  • “Additional costs have been driven by duplicating services” (Paragraph 44)
  • “Division tends to impact disproportionately on those who experience poverty” (Paragraph 45)
  • “Initiatives which would assist…[would include] acceleration of integrated and shared education” (Paragraph 47)
  • “[Shared education will] bring about future savings in the Budget” (Paragraph 48)

It’s magnificent stuff – go and read it yourself.

Of course, one obvious thing you would need to do to address “societal divisions” is ensure teachers in schools are themselves well acquainted with the diverse society in which we live. Another obvious thing to do would be to stop the inefficiency of small teacher training colleges which require subsidies (leaving quite aside the fact they train too many students anyway). No doubt, we would particularly want to do this because of the particular penalty paid for those divisions by those experiencing poverty, say, in places like West Belfast. Naturally, to maximise the investment in “integrated and shared education” you will want teachers who themselves were trained in integrated and shared settings. And it goes without saying that merging, say, teacher training into a single University campus would not just deliver all the above benefits, but also future savings to the budget.

Here’s an odd thing though – when the Employment Minister specifically set out a reform programme of teacher training to achieve all of these things, exactly as the other four parties wanted in an Agreement they all supported, the other four parties went out of their way within two months to block him doing so. Just because something’s (electorally) unpalatable…

I mean, anyone would think those four parties aren’t serious about tackling the costs of division and the inevitable inefficiencies and poverty that goes with them! But that couldn’t be, could it…?

 

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NI’s public sector is too big, and pay gap is too large

That Northern Ireland’s public sector is too big is taken as read by most people. Lots of things which are “taken as read” are not actually true. However, this one is.

I have a friend who did not go into the public sector. Instead, he was one of four people who set up a haulage firm which now employs almost 200 people – 50 people each – in addition to other employed indirectly because of its existence.

Had he gone into the public sector, it is possible that he would have earned well; conceivably, in cash terms, maybe even better than he has. Yet he would not have added those jobs. He would have been fine, but tens more would have had to find employment elsewhere – and, quite possibly, they would have struggled.

This letter denying the public sector is too large completely misses the point. It claims that the public sector is large because, basically, we are poorer; actually, we are poorer because too few of us create wealth, which can only be done in the private sector. It also claims that public sector pay cannot be compared to private sector pay because of the “make-up” of each sector. Well, precisely – if the public sector wasn’t the obvious place to go for a decent living here, more people would try their luck in the private sector. That is how a market economy works!

There is not a single jurisdiction in the world which relies as much on the public sector as Northern Ireland, and there is a reason for that. You cannot go on simply adding jobs out of thin air. Eventually you have to create wealth – and you do that through private-sector companies innovating and exporting, not through bureaucrats telling you they can’t send you the logo you need to put on your event form because that’s someone else’s job and they’re off today.

Even more important than this, of course, is the daft equation between “public sector jobs” on one hand and “public services” on the other. The example in the previous paragraph is actually from real life. There would be literally no disadvantage to public services if the person sending it simply were not employed. There would be no disadvantage either if all the NI Executive Departments’ finance functions were merged into one unit; no disadvantage if each Department had one press officer (instead of eleven or so earning more on average than the average journalist); no disadvantage if OFMDFM had 300 fewer staff as it never does achieve anything anyway; as well as no disadvantage of course if we had a total of ten Special Advisers (not 18), nine Permanent Secretaries (not 14), and 90 MLAs (not 108). Oh, and, by the way, we could probably manage with around half the 117 “quangos” we currently have for a population of under 2 million; not to mention one Teacher Training College merged into a University training 400 students per year rather than two independent training 580 each at a premium…

During the “Troubles”, it literally became the purpose of the public sector in Northern Ireland to provide employment, not just deliver public services. As we approach two decades of “peace”, however, we no longer get that by-ball. Like most normal societies, it is now for the public sector to deliver public services efficiently within budget we are as rate- and taxpayers prepared to pay; and for the rest of us to create jobs and employment through entrepreneurship and investment.

Welcome the Real World, kids.

New expressway can transform Larne

Construction of the A8 Ballynure Bypass was completed yesterday as part of the overall new expressway linking Newtownabbey (and northern Greater Belfast) to the outskirts of Larne.

Ballynure Bypass in November [Credit: Noel O'Rawe]

Ballynure Bypass in November [Credit: Noel O’Rawe]

Coming in at over £100 million, there has rightly been some debate about whether this particular road project offers real value for money (rightly, in the sense that good, open debate is healthy).

There is the argument, which in fact I personally would endorse in theory, that there were other more deserving projects – the A6 at Moneynick (between Randalstown and Toome) being the most obvious. However, what happened simply was that during the Celtic Tiger the Irish Government suggested it would fund half (not least in its own interests, as a main freight link from Dublin to Scotland) and thus preparation work was prioritised on that assumption. The money will never be forthcoming now, of course, but the NI Executive decided to proceed anyway given that the project was ready to go sooner than others, having been so prioritised. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.

Then there is the argument that £100 million should not be spent on such projects at all, most commonly presented as “£100 million to save just five minutes’ journey time”. Let us look at that:
– the time alone is on average in good traffic five minutes; that is, five minutes each way; and that may mount up over a period of time (a commuter from Mallusk to Larne over one year thus saves around 32 hours – two full waking days – a year).
– that time also assumes good traffic; but a new dual carriageway also assists (and accounts for a much vaster time saving) in the case of delays and accidents, both in that they become rarer (dual carriageways with barriers are safer roads) and in that minor accidents or breakdowns do not block the entire carriageway.
– the issue is not just “time”, but also stress; studies have shown definitively that driving on dual carriageways and particularly expressways (we’ll come to that) consumes less concentration, and thus less mental energy (and thus cause less stress, not least to freight drivers).

In much of Continental Europe, "expressways" or "semi-motorways" have their own specific sign

In much of Continental Europe, “expressways” or “semi-motorways” have their own specific sign

Expressways (officially known as “Category 6″ or “Category 7″ dual carriageways), sometimes known as “semi-motorways” in the UK (Continental travellers may be familiar with “voie express” as opposed to “autoroute” in France or “autovia” as opposed to “autopista” in Spain), bring all the benefits of the dual carriageways but make them more pronounced. They allow entrance and exit only to the left (known as “limited access”) with junctions which then all take the form of overpasses or underpasses (known as “grade-separated junctions”), thus prioritising forward movement at all times and not allowing any traffic to cross the carriageway. This makes them hugely safer (as there can be no head-on collisions of any time) and a lot easier to navigate (as it is simply a matter of knowing which junction to leave at).

Expressways have the arguable further benefit of being a cheaper option than motorways because they do not automatically prohibit low-power vehicles and thus do not need a specific alternative route; therefore, they can largely be built “online” (i.e. by dualling an existing road and reconstructing its junctions) rather than as an entirely new road. Category 6 expressways do not have an emergency lane (“hard shoulder”) either. This does, however, bring with it the limitation that not all traffic is kept separate from high-speed vehicles – tractors and even bicycles may be left to compete for space on the same carriageway as cars at 70mph passing lorries at 50mph. Nevertheless, on a relatively low-volume route (as this is, with around 17,000 vehicles per day, although that number will now rise), this can be a reasonable compromise (and restrictions on type of traffic may be placed on expressways, as they are on the A12 Westlink in Belfast; they are just not automatic as they are with motorways).

One further specific benefit of expressways is that, because junctions are dotted out as with motorways, they tend not to suffer “planning creep” as they are not easily accessible. They are designed specifically to move traffic from one large location to another (rather than allowing them access at every hole in the hedge). This is distinct even from non-expressway dual carriageways, which by nature allow new developments and commercial centres to spring up at all points alongside them, soon rendering them hopeless for long-distance traffic while also leading to unsustainable communities of detached shops and houses with no real centre or hub.

Therefore, I would argue strongly that the A8 expressway will bring very significant benefits to the Larne area and the Belfast-Larne corridor and few disadvantages. It will protect the countryside between Newtownabbey and Larne from encroachment while making Larne Town itself (and its hinterland):
– more viable as a commuter town, thus increasing its potential as a residential option;
– more easily accessible (not just in terms of speed, note above); and
– more attractive for freight, ultimately enhancing trade from across the island of Ireland with Scotland in particular.

I’d say that’s £100 million (only £25 million a year for each year of construction on average) very well spent.

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