A6 delays 'costing mid-Ulster economy millions'
DELAYS to improving the main road between Belfast and Derry is costing investment and jobs, industry leaders have claimed.
Trade body Manufacturing NI said delays at Moneynock and around Toomebridge were costing the sector millions of pounds annually.
But efforts to relieve the notorious bottleneck have proved controversial.
Part of the proposed £160m scheme would pass through the Lough Beg area dubbed by many 'Heaney Country' as it was beloved of late poet Seamus Heaney who hailed from the area.
Meanwhile, evidence of an ancient settlement dating to between 5,000 - 10,000 years ago has also been found on the route.
The nine-mile dual carriageway would replace the existing road from Castledawson to the M22 motorway.
Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly said the debate over the road was "important" but added: "What’s been lost is that employers, exporters and commuters are enduring millions of pounds of additional cost, lost productivity and time by not even being able to make it to or from Belfast via the M22 and A6."
"Manufacturers would much rather be investing this money in new plant and premises and creating more jobs," he said.
"An immediate start to improving the A6 from the motorway to Castledawson is the most important infrastructure investment to be made right now. Other schemes including completing the A6 to Derry, the A5 in the west and of course York Street interchange must be fast tracked to not only deal with decades of underinvestment but to remove expensive delays in getting products to and from the market.”
Mark Cuskeran of Toomebridge manufacturer SDC Trailer said the current road network was not "fit for purpose".
“We have 700 of our 950 staff based in our Toome facility and there are always huge delays due to the poor and outdated existing road system," he said.
"Furthermore, we have over 100 lorries coming in and out of our facility every day. To be clear, this is costing SDC Trailers and our staff significant money, which we could well direct towards expansion, staff training and new jobs."
Last week, it emerged Seamus Heaney wrote to then secretary of state Peter Hain in 2005 to voice his concerns about the road.
In his letter, Mr Heaney said he had “known and loved this area since childhood and have written about it – or rather out of it – often”.
“It is one of the few undisturbed bits of wetland in mid-Ulster, a direct link to the environment our Mesolithic ancestors knew in the Bann Valley and a precious ‘lung’ in the countryside,” he said.
Richard Hogg of Macrete which employs 190 people in Toomebridge said: "Although I have sympathy with the issues raised by Seamus Heaney over a decade ago, the simple truth is that business, job creation, and economic stability are being significantly held back by the poor road network in the area.
"This project should have gone ahead long before now and to find that it is being held up again is just unacceptable."