Northern Ireland news

Stormont urged to give clarity on A5 project after Arc21 incinerator ruling

Funding for the A5 had political agreement, but the decision to proceed with construction was taken by civil servants
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT chiefs are being urged to provide clarity on the future of the A5 road upgrade in the wake of the Mallusk incinerator court ruling.

A judge on Monday said a senior official in the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) could not approve plans for the £240m waste incinerator in the absence of a minister.

The ruling has cast doubt on other major decisions taken by civil servants since the Stormont executive's collapse early last year, as well as projects still in the pipeline.

They include a decision in November to begin work on the new A5 between Newbuildings and Strabane – part of a cross-border link between Donegal, Derry and Dublin.

Construction on the £150m first phase was due to begin in early 2018, but it has been put on hold following a fresh legal challenge.

Sinn Féin yesterday insisted there is "absolutely no reason" why the project should not proceed as planned, saying that former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard gave "clear written ministerial decision and direction" before the political institutions fell.

However, DfI has previously said the construction decision was "taken by the department in the absence of ministers" and considered information that only became available in May – following the executive's collapse.

A spokeswoman said the "overall approach to the scheme, its funding and the need to progress it as quickly as possible were all set out by the outgoing infrastructure minister and endorsed by the executive".

"The actual decision to proceed was taken by the department in the absence of ministers," she added.

"The decision needed to take account of the PAC (Planning Appeals Commission) report and detailed environmental studies which were not available until May 2017."

SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said he has written to the David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, to seek clarification about the delivery of the A5 following the incinerator ruling.

"This decision has called into question the validity of any decisions made by the civil service during the political impasse and this is why it is essential that we get clarity about the future of the A5," he said.

Mr McCrossan said it was "absolutely imperative that there are no more delays in this critical infrastructure project", describing it as "hugely important for west Tyrone as well as the wider north west".

"Therefore, the only solution to ensure the delivery of this project is for politicians to get back to work," he said.

"Local decisions should be taken by local ministers. It is time for the institutions to be back up and running and to deliver for people right across the north."

Other major projects which could be affected by Monday's ruling include the north-south electricity interconnector and the redevelopment of Casement Park.

A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said the British government is considering the court ruling.

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