Northern Ireland news

Fears for A5 road scheme as further delay confirmed

The new A5 would shorten journey times between Derry, Strabane, Omagh and Dublin
Connla Young

AN MLA has said he fears the troubled A5 road project could be shelved after transport chiefs confirmed a recent court ruling has “implications” for the scheme.

SDLP assembly member Daniel McCrossan spoke out after receiving a letter from Department for Infrastructure permanent secretary Peter May.

The major road upgrade is part of a cross-border link between Donegal, Derry and Dublin.

Work was due to begin earlier this year on the first phase - a nine-mile stretch between New Buildings outside Derry and Strabane in Co Tyrone - but was put on hold because of a court challenge due to be heard next month.

However, Mr May has now confirmed that he will ask for an adjournment.

It comes after a court ruled earlier this year that senior civil servants should not have approved a planned £240 million waste incinerator on the outskirts of north Belfast in the absence of the Stormont executive.

Attorney General John Larkin has since written to the Supreme Court in London to seek clarity on the implications of the case.

Peter May, the permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure

In his letter, Mr May said the incinerator ruling "clearly does have implications for other cases including this one as it clearly states that decisions normally taken by ministers should not be taken by civil servants”.

"You will be aware that the Attorney General has recently written to the Supreme Court seeking clarity on a range of devolution related issues and we believe it would be sensible to await the outcome of that before this case moves forward.

“On that basis, we have asked the applicant to agree to an adjournment."

While the decision to fund the A5 scheme was taken by former minister Chris Hazzard, the green light to proceed to construction was made by civil servants after the collapse of Stormont in January 2017 because a public inquiry had not reported before that date.

The report recommended proceeding with the scheme.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan. Picture by Mal McCann

Supporters of the road plans say that unlike the incinerator case, the A5 had the support of the majority of MLAs and civil servants were acting in line with executive and ministerial policy.

Mr Crossan last night voiced his frustration at the continuing delays to the scheme, which was first agreed by ministers in 2007 before being put on hold by a previous legal challenge.

“It is now my concern that, if the judicial review case wins, that the A5 WTC (Western Transport Corridor) scheme will be shelved indefinitely and it will be the people of the north west who fall victim again for a second time,” he said.

“It's time for Sinn Féin and the DUP to stop the soapbox politics and get on with delivering.”

He also said fatalities on the road will continue.

“We’ve already witnessed countless and unnecessary deaths on the A5.

“I firmly believe the numbers will only rise due to inaction.”

Roads expert Wesley Johnston said the current situation “is a consequence of a power vacuum at Stormont”.

"This would not be a problem if the DUP and Sinn Féin were back at Stormont and there was a minister," he said.

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