Minister of Infrastructure – NI Assembly Questions

MAY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 10916/22-2726/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure, pursuant to AQW 9597/22-27, to explain why he has no plans to update the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.

Answer 14/05/24
I have many competing priorities within my Department. A review of the Taxis Act would involve significant resources, take considerable time to conclude, and could involve major legislative change. However, I can assure you that my Department is committed to working with and helping the taxi industry address the range of issues that it faces.
I hope you find this information helpful.
AQW 10917/22-2726/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure to detail the representations he has received from taxi operators for changes to current legislation.

Answer 14/05/24
I have not received any direct representations from taxi operators for changes to current taxi legislation, however a number of AQWs have been received. I can confirm that my officials are aware of some areas of concern for operators through their engagement with the industry.
AQW 10918/22-2726/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure whether he intends to meet with the Licensed Taxi Operators Association to discuss the need for legislative change.

Answer 14/05/24
I have not received a request to meet with the Licenced Taxi Operators Association. I am aware that officials within my Department are in contact with a representative from the Association, and that my Permanent Secretary has agreed to meet with a PR company representing them.
AQO 427/22-2702/05/24Mr Philip McGuigan (SF – North Antrim)Mr McGuigan asked the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on the Portrush to Bushmills greenway. 

Answer 14/05/24 
The heads of terms of the Causeway Coast and Glens growth deal was signed on 24 April. As the lead Department, we recently approved the council’s strategic outline business case for the Portrush to Bushmills greenway. I am pleased to see that the project has been included in the growth deal. The council will now begin work on the outline business case, and my officials look forward to engaging with it on this exciting project. Click on link above for the full answer. 
AQW 10486/22-2719/04/24Ms Claire Sugden (IND – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure to detail any cross-departmental work or discussions in relation to potential changes to taxi operators’ licensing regulations, specifically in relation to (i) the impact it will have on taxi numbers; and (ii) the knock-on effects on (a) older people who rely on taxis for medical appointments; and (b) families with children with special educational needs or disabilities who rely on taxis to take them to school.

Answer 03/05/24
My Department is responsible for the regulation of the taxi industry, in relation to taxi driver, taxi operator and vehicle licencing. Within this regulatory role the department has no remit to influence the specific types of work taxi drivers or taxi companies undertake. The same applies to driver recruitment and retention polices, this is a matter for taxi operators.With regard to the proposal to amend the current Taxi Operator Licensing Regulations (NI) 2012 you may wish to note that I have not yet made a final decision on the need for subordinate legislation here. However, I should emphasise that any new regulations would not alter the current taxi regulatory framework.

Rather, they would simply clarify the existing requirements of the taxis Act (NI) 2008. I can also confirm that in considering the proposal my officials did engage with Transport for London and the Department for Transport.
AQW 9595/22-2708/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure (i) whether his Department still intends to amend the Taxi Operator Licensing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012, as per the notice issued to operators on 8 February 2024; and (ii) whether his Department has made an assessment of the VAT implications of such changes.

Answer 03/05/24
2021 A court Judgement in England and Wales has prompted some taxi operators to review their current operating model to ensure that it complies with existing statutory provision.

The proposal to amend the current Taxi Operator Licensing Regulations (NI) 2012 has not changed, however I have not yet made a final decision on the need for subordinate legislation here. However, I should emphasise that any new regulations would not alter the current taxi regulatory framework. Rather, they would simply clarify the existing requirements of the taxis Act (NI) 2008.

Taxi operators may therefore wish to take legal advice on their specific operating model, including any associated VAT implications, to ensure compliance with the 2008 Act, as it already applies.

APRIL 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 9995/22-2712/04/24Mr Peter McReynolds (APNI – East Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on plans to adopt the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate during this Assembly mandate.

Answer 29/04/24
The Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate was laid by the British Government, Scottish Government, and Welsh Senedd as the Vehicle Emissions Trading Schemes Order (VETS) in England, Scotland, and Wales in October 2023 and came into force in those jurisdictions from 03 January 2024. Due to the absence of the Assembly, it was not legally possible to introduce the legislation here. I am working with my officials to consider the best way forward and once I have made a decision, I will inform my Ministerial colleagues and Departmental Committee members.
AQW 9994/22-2712/04/24Mr Peter McReynolds (APNI – East Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure whether his Department will instigate a review of the Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 (S.R. 2015 No. 70) with regard to electric vehicle charge points.

Answer 29/04/24
The Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2020 introduced new permitted development rights for electric vehicle charging points by amending Part 3 (Minor Operations) of the schedule to the Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015.

These permitted development rights provide for the installation, alteration or replacement of wall mounted electric vehicle charging points in off-street parking areas (Class D), for the installation, alteration or replacement of free-standing electric vehicle charging points in off-street parking areas (Class E) and for the replacement of free-standing electric vehicle charging points in on-street parking areas (Class F), subject to certain conditions and limitations.I have currently no plans to review these permitted development rights.
AQW 9993/22-2712/04/24Mr Peter McReynolds (APNI – East Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure to provide an update on the work of the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Task-Force.

Answer 29/04/24
My Department recognises the key role Electric Vehicles play in reducing transport emissions by switching fuels to low emission alternatives. While the roll out of EV Infrastructure in the North is commercially led, my Department, in chairing the EV Infrastructure Task Force, has a lead role in bringing together representatives from government, consumers, energy providers and industry with a focus on delivering a fit for purpose, modern EV charging network.

The EV Infrastructure Task-Force provides a platform for the sharing of knowledge and expertise, exploring options to tackle some of the barriers which exist in providing EV Infrastructure and examining how demand for charging can be met across the Transport Sector. In recognising the complexity and wide range of areas that need addressed over the next five years, the Task-Force agreed six key actions which were to be developed by my Department, the Department of the Economy, Charge Point Operators and other statutory bodies including the Consumer Council and the NI Utility Regulator.

I have been encouraged by the progress made by the members of the Task-Force, in considering the priorities contained in the Action Plan, and the successful collaboration across sectors, which has led to significant interventions, such as the introduction of charging for electricity at publicly available charge points. The most recent available statistics indicate that there are now over 540 publicly available charge points here which represents an increase of 60% since August 2021.

The Task-Force aims to meet quarterly to allow members to provide updates on the progress of the actions and review priorities, reacting to market developments and to consider the outcomes of formal consultation on key issues including the review of connection costs for Charge Point Operators entering the market. My Officials have also been liaising with key stakeholders outside of this forum and are currently considering how the Task-Force can share the knowledge of the group and take the views of those who have entered the market and are making a significant contribution to the growth of charging infrastructure in the North.
AQW 9992/22-2712/04/24Mr Peter McReynolds (APNI – East Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure whether there are plans to review the (i) role; (ii) progress; and (iii) composition of the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Task-Force.

Answer 29/04/24
My Department recognises the key role Electric Vehicles play in reducing transport emissions by switching fuels to low emission alternatives. While the roll out of EV Infrastructure in the North is commercially led, my Department, in chairing the EV Infrastructure Task Force, has a lead role in bringing together representatives from government, consumers, energy providers and industry with a focus on delivering a fit for purpose, modern EV charging network.

The EV Infrastructure Task-Force provides a platform for the sharing of knowledge and expertise, exploring options to tackle some of the barriers which exist in providing EV Infrastructure and examining how demand for charging can be met across the Transport Sector. In recognising the complexity and wide range of areas that need addressed over the next five years, the Task-Force agreed six key actions which were to be developed by my Department, the Department of the Economy, Charge Point Operators and other statutory bodies including the Consumer Council and the NI Utility Regulator.

I have been encouraged by the progress made by the members of the Task-Force, in considering the priorities contained in the Action Plan, and the successful collaboration across sectors, which has led to significant interventions, such as the introduction of charging for electricity at publicly available charge points. The most recent available statistics indicate that there are now over 540 publicly available charge points here which represents an increase of 60% since August 2021.

The Task-Force aims to meet quarterly to allow members to provide updates on the progress of the actions and review priorities, reacting to market developments and to consider the outcomes of formal consultation on key issues including the review of connection costs for Charge Point Operators entering the market. My Officials have also been liaising with key stakeholders outside of this forum and are currently considering how the Task-Force can share the knowledge of the group and take the views of those who have entered the market and are making a significant contribution to the growth of charging infrastructure in the North.
AQW 10046/22-2712/04/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure (i) when he will review proposed changes to the Taxi Operators Licensing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012; and (ii) what steps he will take to mitigate negative impacts on the taxi industry.

Answer 29/04/24
There is no timetable for the proposed legislative change to the taxi regulations. I can advise that my officials are seeking further legal advice on this matter, and I will then consider next steps. You will be aware that my Department is responsible for the regulation of the taxi industry, in relation to taxi driver, taxi operator and vehicle licencing. Other business related matters for the taxi industry such as VAT are outside the remit of my Department.
AQW 9755/22-2709/04/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure to provide an update on the Taxi Action Plan.

Answer 26/04/24
I do not have any plans at this time to update or conduct a full review of the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
AQW 9837/22-2710/04/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure whether his Department will conduct a full review of the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.

Answer 26/04/24
I do not have any plans at this time to update or conduct a full review of the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
AQW 9725/22-2709/04/24Mr Stephen Dunne (DUP – North Down)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure to detail (i) his Department’s planned funding for upgrades to the Enterprise Rail service; and (ii) whether any of the funds were reallocated from other areas of his Department’s budget.

Answer 24/04/24
I welcome the announcement of the €165million investment from the PEACEPLUS Programme, that was announced earlier this month. This funding will support a major programme to transform the cross-border “Enterprise” train service, paving the way for an hourly timetable between Belfast and Dublin.
This programme involves replacing the existing Enterprise trains with brand new trains by the end of this decade, allowing for an hourly timetable and faster journey times between Dublin and Belfast.

The procurement process for the new train-sets is expected to be complete over the coming year, and the final costs will not therefore be determined until this statutory process is completed. The project, which is a high priority for me and my Department, will be jointly funded by the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) and the Department of Transport (DoT) as well as the confirmed PEACEPLUS allocation.
AQW 9596/22-2708/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure what plans he has to amend Class C taxi licencing.

Answer 23/04/24
I can advise that currently I have no plans to amend the definition of Class C taxis or the process to licence this class of taxis.
AQW 9597/22-2708/04/24Mr Phillip Brett (DUP – North Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure what plans he has to update the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.

Answer 23/04/24
I do not have any plans to update the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
AQW 9619/22-2708/04/24Mr Justin McNulty (SDLP – Newry and Armagh)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure when he will provide a timeline for the implementation of the recommendations in the All-Island Strategic Rail Review.

Answer 23/04/24
The draft All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR) report was released for public consultation for the purposes of Strategic Environmental Assessment from 25 July to 29 September 2023. Work is ongoing to analyse the responses received and finalise the Review.Once finalised, one of the key initial steps will be prioritisation of the Review recommendations and development of an implementation plan. My officials are already engaging with their southern colleagues on these matters.\

In the meantime, the draft AISRR report released to public consultation includes a Roadmap which presents a timeline for the possible future development and delivery of key interventions, broadly broken down into short term (from today to c. 2030); medium term (2030 – 2040) and long term (2040 – 2050) which gives an indication of when interventions may be delivered in full.

In addition to developing an implementation plan, more detailed work will be needed to test the feasibility and affordability of the recommendations and guide future investment decisions. The implementation of each key intervention will be subject to feasibility studies and business case approval, and the necessary funding being made available.
AQO 287/22-2716/04/23Mr Colm Gildernew (SF – Fermanagh and South Tyrone)Mr Gildernew asked the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on when the transport strategy will be published. 

Answer 16/04/24
Decarbonising transport represents the greatest challenge facing our transport network in recent times and will require public authorities and society to rethink our approach to travel. That provides an opportunity to reshape transport to better connect our towns and cities across the island and create healthier and more prosperous communities. To that end, I am working with my officials to bring forward a new transport strategy that I expect to consult on later this year. The strategy will provide an overarching framework to inform the Department’s planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services through to 2035.

The strategy will provide a vision for transport that will allow people to choose the most sustainable transport option for their journey, whatever its purpose. Central to achieving that vision will be understanding the needs and opportunities in individual communities. For example, creating more sustainable transport options in Newtownards or Belfast will not be the same as it is in Enniskillen or Ballymoney. That is why my Department is working with councils and stakeholders in communities to produce a new suite of local transport plans that are centred on local transport solutions. That will include a focus on improving active travel infrastructure, reflecting our commitment to that area in the Climate Change Act.

At the regional level, a new transport plan for the strategic transport network will seek to ensure that people are able to access employment, healthcare and other services and create balanced economic growth across the North. The regional plan will look to improve safety and maximise the potential of our strategic network, particularly for public transport.
AQW 9260/22-2720/03/24Ms Sinéad McLaughlin (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on funding for the City of Derry Airport.

Answer 08/04/04
As Minister for Infrastructure, my powers relating to NI’s three main airports are limited to the Airports (NI) Order 1994. These are powers to control noise, control land in the interests of the safe and efficient use of airports, make byelaws, provide for airport constabularies and airport consultative committees and to give grants to assist capital expenditure.

In April 2021 Derry City and Strabane District Council submitted the original Business Case requesting support for City of Derry Airport. My officials had requested updated information in the form of an addendum to the original Business Case which was received by my Department on 21 March 2024 and is currently being considered by officials.

I remain committed to working with Executive colleagues to listen to the case brought forward by Derry City and Strabane District Council for support for City of Derry Airport, and to working together with the rest of the Executive to identify ways to support our airports.

MARCH 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQO 123/22-2705/03/24Ms Emma Sheerin (SF – Mid Ulster)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for his assessment of the accessibility of public transport.

Answer 05/03/24
The Department funds Translink, which works to ensure that services and facilities are accessible to all. That means creating a consistent customer experience for everyone, thus ensuring accessible public transport for people with all levels of abilities.

The public transport fleet is fully compliant with accessibility regulations. I recognise, however, that higher standards of accessibility are needed, and, where possible, Translink continues to improve the accessibility of its vehicles and stations. For example, it has agreed specifications for future bus designs with the Inclusive Mobility and Transport Advisory Committee (IMTAC), with the intention that all vehicles that are used on local stage carriage services be low-floor. Translink is evaluating a low-floor, single-decker Goldliner and hopes to develop an agreed specification on that vehicle type with its stakeholders, including IMTAC.

My Department and Translink are also committed to introducing Changing Places facilities and are among the first public bodies to do so. Changing Places facilities have already been provided at Portrush station, the north-west transport hub and Lanyon Place station and are included in the plans for Belfast Grand Central station and for Botanic, Lurgan and Yorkgate stations.

My Department funds other programmes that are designed to remove the barriers to travel faced by older and disabled people, thus reducing social isolation and improving access to goods and services. Community transport services in urban and rural areas provide an affordable and accessible alternative transport option for those who have difficulties accessing the main public transport network. Finally, the concessionary fares scheme provides free or discounted access to public transport for older and disabled people, thus removing or reducing financial barriers to travel.

FEBRUARY 2024

ReferenceDateMemberQuestion and Answer
AQW 6404/22-2714/02/24Mr Alan Robinson (DUP – East Londonderry)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on the work to deliver the Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan.

Answer 28/02/24
The Department is in the process of developing a new Transport Strategy that will help to shape the vision and strategic priorities for transport through to 2035. Once this is published, it will help to inform the Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan. At this stage, I have not taken any decisions in relation to the Plan.

This programme will deliver increased connectivity and improved visitor experience across the WAW and the CCR, providing an opportunity to bring together two of the most internationally renowned experiences that the island of Ireland has to offer. By demonstrating to the international visitor, the connectivity of the two routes and showcasing the Northwest of the island as a gateway to these two iconic experiences, it will create a dynamic proposition encouraging international visitors to explore more widely, stay longer, and spend more.

One strand of the programme will be to undertake an audit of the CCR to assess the current visitor experience and develop appropriate discovery points along the route in line with the current WAW experience. This will include concepting of signage along the route. This work will be carried out in 2024 and all key stakeholders will be engaged before recommendations are implemented. 

A second strand of the programme aims to launch a small capital grants scheme for public and private businesses on both sides of the border. This will allow businesses aligned with the brands to apply for grant funding to improve interpretation, visitor experience etc. The scheme is being developed in partnership with the three agencies with the aim to launch by summer 2024.

A programme of consumer research is currently live in four overseas market (Britain, USA, France & Germany). Findings from the research will inform a market campaign to be launched later in 2024 in one overseas market. The initial phase of the marketing campaign will be to highlight the accessibility of the two routes on one visit for international holidaymakers, building on the appeal of these two iconic tourism products.
AQW 6363/22-2713/03/23Mr Matthew O’Toole (SDLP – South Belfast)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on his Department’s work in relation to the All-Island Strategic Rail Review.

Answer 23/02/24
Since the All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR) was announced in 2021, my officials have been engaging closely with colleagues in the Department of Transport, to progress the Review.  The draft AISRR report was released for the purposes of Strategic Environmental Assessment from 25 July to 29 September 2023 and recent engagement has focussed on analysing the responses to the consultation and working to finalise the draft Report.

Over the coming months, this engagement will continue at ministerial and official level as both Departments work to address the issues raised through the consultation and present the final report for agreement by the governments in both jurisdictions.

Once the Review is published, joint efforts will turn to prioritising the recommendations within the Review, developing an implementation plan, and looking to explore avenues of funding to progress the interventions.
AQW 6083/22-2709/02/24Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure for an update on his Department’s engagement with the Irish government in relation to the All-Island Strategic Rail Review.

Answer 22/02/24
My officials have been engaging closely with their colleagues in the Department of Transport to progress the All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR) since the Review was announced in 2021.

The draft AISRR report was released for the purposes of Strategic Environmental Assessment from 25 July to 29 September 2023 and recent engagement has focussed on analysing the responses to the consultation and working to finalise the draft Report.

This engagement will continue at Ministerial and official level  over the coming months as both Departments work to address the issues raised through the consultation and present the final report for agreement by the governments in both jurisdictions.

Once the Review is published, joint efforts will turn to prioritising the recommendations within the Review, developing an implementation plan, and looking to explore avenues of funding to progress the interventions. This close engagement between the two departments has been an excellent example of joint working on cross-border priorities and will be key to the successful delivery of the AISRR and realising the many benefits it can deliver for our communities, our people, and our economies right across the island.
AQW 5959/22-27Mr Mark Durkan (SDLP – Foyle)To ask the Minister for Infrastructure whether he will seek the support of the Executive to safeguard the future of Derry City Airport.

Answer 21/02/24
As Minister for Infrastructure, my powers relating to NI’s three main airports are limited to the Airports (NI) Order 1994. These are powers to control noise, control land in the interests of the safe and efficient use of airports, make byelaws, provide for airport constabularies and airport consultative committees and to give grants to assist capital expenditure.

I remain committed to working with Executive colleagues to listen to the case brought forward by Derry City and Strabane District Council for support for City of Derry Airport, and to working together with the rest of the Executive to identify ways to support our airports.