Northern Ireland news

A6 work could be put back by years if environmentalist wins legal challenge

Wesley Johnston has said work on a section of the A6 could be put back by years if an environmentalist wins a legal challenge
Connla Young

A ROADS expert has said work on a section of the planned new A6 Derry to Belfast road could be put back by years if an environmentalist wins a legal challenge.

Wesley Johnston, who runs the Northern Ireland Roads blog, said the best case scenario for government is that the case is thrown out and work can start early next year.

However, he said if a judge finds that environmental assessments did not comply with legislation, construction on at least one part of the route could be delayed by two or three years.

A "worst case scenario" could even see doubt cast on environmental assessments used on other road schemes such as the A5 from Belfast to Aughnacloy, meaning "multiple road schemes halted".

"Thankfully this scenario is unlikely, especially given the care that has gone into the new assessments for the A5, but is nevertheless a possibility."

Mr Johnston was speaking after a court granted leave for a judicial review into a planned new £160m stretch of the A6 being built through landscape made famous by poet Seamus Heaney.

Chris Murphy took the case over an alleged breach of the habitats directive on a specially protected area close to part of the route.

A judge said there was still uncertainty surrounding ecological checks carried out on the potential disturbance to wildlife on Lough Neagh and Lough Beg from the proposed dual carriageway from Toome to Castledawson.

The area is well-known for its Whooper swans which arrive every autumn from Iceland.

The Freight Transport Association expressed "bitter disapopintment" at the prospect of further delays in the long-awaited scheme.

Politicians have also questioned why the Department of Infrastructure has found itself facing similar court action over a second major road project.

In 2013 a judge quashed a decision to press ahead with work on the A5 due to a breach of the habitats directive.

The A6 case is due to be heard in January.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Infrastructure said yesterday that some work on the project could continue.

“Some archaeological investigation and preliminary site clearance works are ongoing in the Toome to Castledawson section of the A6,” she said.

“All works adjacent to the SPA (special protection area) are completed in accordance with the environmental statement commitment.”

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