An application fee for a free travel Smartpass is to be introduced in order to protect concessionary fares on public transport in Northern Ireland, John O’Dowd has said.

The Infrastructure Minister said he was focusing on protecting essential services as he published an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) on the impact of the budget agreed by the Assembly on spending proposals in his department.

Mr O’Dowd said he was also protecting funding for planned improvements to the Londonderry to Coleraine rail line.

Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd said he was dealing with a challenging budget (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

The Stormont Assembly agreed its spending plan last month, with Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald conceding that no departments were getting the funding they had requested.

Mr O’Dowd said: “Years of underfunding and austerity by the British Government mean these are challenging times for all departments, and infrastructure is no different.

“I will be looking towards the June monitoring round and will continue to work with Executive colleagues to explore all avenues of investment but, for now, I am focusing on protecting essential services, delivering positive change and addressing regional imbalance.

“I am doing so by maintaining concessionary fares for the over 60s, ringfencing funding for Coleraine-Derry phase three rail improvements, by investing in the A5, A1 safety improvements, the A4, the A29 Cookstown Bypass and the Newry Southern Relief Road.

“As a department, we have had to critically examine all aspects of spend.”

The minister added: “We have taken and will continue to take difficult decisions to prioritise what we can deliver within our budget envelope, which means to protect concessionary fares a nominal fee will be introduced for first-time applicants and 60-64-year-olds applying for a Smartpass.”

Stormont funds free public transport for all over-60s through the Smartpass scheme.

Mr O’Dowd said Northern Ireland Water is to receive £137.7 million resource and £323.6 million capital funding plus a ring-fenced amount of £875,000 for EU Peace Plus projects.

Public transport operator Translink will get £245.8 million, including £80 million ring-fenced for the Belfast Transport Hub, £6.4 million EU peace plus funding for the Enterprise replacements and £4.7 million ring-fenced for Coleraine to Derry-Londonderry track renewal.

Mr O’Dowd said all allocations are indicative at this stage and will be confirmed or amended upon consideration of the EQIA.

He added: “None of us are getting the funding we would have liked, due to underfunding by the British Government, and for that reason, we must all prioritise essential services along with health and safety while maximising service delivery within the resources available.

“I encourage everyone to provide their comments to the EQIA.

“Getting infrastructure right can deliver real benefits for our citizens, communities and the economy.

“I am working with my officials on a clear prioritisation of schemes over the next two years, which will put the department on a steady footing to make the best possible use of our resources to make a positive difference for all of our citizens.”

The consultation will remain open until September 6.