High Court reserves judgment in second legal challenge over A5 road scheme
JUDGMENT has been reserved in a second legal challenge to a multi-million pound dual carriageway project linking counties Derry and Tyrone.
A campaign group opposed to the A5 scheme claimed in the High Court on Tuesday it should be halted over a failure to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA).
They also contend there has been a procedural flaw in requirements to consider need, justification and other options to the planned new 85km route.
But Attorney General John Larkin QC, representing the Department for Infrastructure, described the arguments as "absurd".
Work on the new dual carriageway section is due to start next year.
In 2013 a group of farmers, landowners and supporters known as the Alternative A5 Alliance won their first legal action against the new Derry to Aughnacloy road.
At that stage a judge quashed the decision to press ahead with the scheme, which forms part of a proposed key cross-border business route linking Dublin and the north west, due to a breach of a habitats directive.
Lawyers representing the Alliance have now returned to court to seek a judicial review of renewed plans.
They argued that the project must be subject to an SEA if it features in Stormont's next Programme for Government.
Mrs Justice Keegan was also told there is a requirement for alternatives to be properly considered at an ongoing public inquiry.
Greg Jones QC claimed anything less would render the process academic.
"The public inquiry should not be engaged in what is no more than a sixth form debating society exercise," he said.
But Mr Larkin stressed a further hearing next month will examine alternatives and enable objections to be voiced.
He said only a draft Programme for Government currently exists but confirmed: "There's going to be nothing in the Programme for Government about the A5, directly or indirectly."
Following submissions Mrs Justice Keegan reserved her decision on whether to grant leave to seek a judicial review.
Meanwhile, finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said a multimillion-pound motorway project to reduce congestion at Belfast's York Street interchange will go ahead.
Last week, Mr Ó Muilleoir's party colleague, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard, accepted a recommendation from a public inquiry that the scheme to link the Westlink, M2 and M3 should progress in principle but reiterated warnings that Brexit had placed a question mark over funding.
Mr Ó Muilleoir said yesterday: "It remains a priority. We need to, and will, deliver the York Street interchange."