Finance Minister Arlene Foster has spread Christmas cheer across Tyrone in her final budget to the Assembly, giving a green light to the long-delayed A5 Derry to Aughnacloy trunk road and Desertcreat training college.
Just a few hours before taking up leadership of the DUP, Mrs Foster announced that a total of £79.4m will be spent on building the flagship college, phased over the next five years.
According to the finance department figures, £3.9m will be spent on Desertcreat in 2016, followed by £0.3m in 2017, £18.3m in 2018, £28.2m in 2019 and £28.7m in 2020.
Adding to the good news for Tyrone, Mrs Foster also announced that £229.2m will be spent on the A5 motorway in one of the biggest road projects in the North. Work on the long-delayed route starts next year, ending in 2021.
On Thursday, ministers were forced to fast-track a new budget for 2016/17 following last month’s Fresh Start deal between the DUP, Sinn Fein and the British and Irish governments. They have by-passed the normal procedures for agreeing a budget.
However, Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone warned that people in Mid Ulster have been let down by too many false dawns on the future of the Desertcreat project and that the proof of Executive spending promises will be in the delivery on the ground.
He said: “People have become numb to promise after promise about the training college at Desertcreat. We have all had our hopes raised and dashed far too often to be persuaded by a promise or thin paper commitment to this project.
“I remain of the view that the potential of this site could transform local communities. And I remain relentlessly ambitious that we can deliver on that potential to provide jobs to a range of struggling sectors.
“But a one-year budget that promises five years of spend without any solid future funding proposals does not inspire confidence that we’ll see real movement.
“The SDLP has made proposals for new capital investment management structures that will see projects like advanced from announcement to completion. That’s what we need, not more photoshoot politics. I will continue to work hard, alongside local people, to do all I can to advance and support this project. But we will not be led up the garden path again.”