Northern Ireland news

What is behind the delays in the A5 scheme?

Road signage on the main Derry to Strabane road also known as the A5. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Allan Preston

AFTER 16 years of funding issues and legal wrangles, and with the loss of 44 lives, safety campaigners have renewed demands to upgrade one of the north’s most dangerous roads.

Originally approved in 2007, the A5 Western Transport Corridor linking 53 miles of road between Aughnacloy and Newbuildings outside Derry was to be the biggest ever single roads scheme in Northern Ireland’s history.

The first of two construction phases was supposed to start in 2018, linking Newbuildings and Strabane.

Costs have now spiralled with the original estimate of more than £800m, which included a promise of £400m from the Irish government, rising to £1.6bn.

In 2021, despite no construction work taking place, it was reported that £84m had already been spent including over £53m for consultant fees for engineers, £300,000 on legal fees, more than £600,000 on public inquiries and around £30m on contractors and other preparation costs.

Read More: A5 - 'Enough is enough'

While the scheme enjoys the support of the main Stormont parties, successful legal challenges from the Alternative A5 Alliance group have repeatedly halted progress.

Reported to include farmers, landowners and others with an interest in the Co Tyrone area, their main objections include the compulsory buying of land as well as environmental issues.

Yesterday, Sinn Féin’s West Tyrone MP Órfhlaith Begley accused the group of frustrating the will of the vast majority of the local communities left “utterly devastated by numerous fatalities” along the road.

"Action is needed. There is no doubt that this is one of the most dangerous roads on this island. The A5 transport corridor as it stands is not fit for purpose, with a significant portion of the road being below modern road standards,” she said.

"The upgrade must be delivered first and foremost to save lives, too many lives have been lost.”

A public inquiry into the A5 scheme is expected to resume in March, allowing time for a consultation on new environmental information published this month by the Department for Infrastructure.

Ms Begley claimed that a recent pre-inquiry hearing, the number of objections submitted “vastly outnumbered those in support for the A5 upgrade” and encouraged more supporters to attend to ensure “the mood of the people is reflected”.

While rarely making public comment, the Alternative A5 group has previously said they have been misrepresented as landowners unwilling to compromise.

Speaking to Belfast Live last year, acting chair Hamilton Hassard said blaming road deaths on a lack of progress on the A5 scheme was “scurrilous” and ignored factors including speeding.

“We just basically represent a cross-section of society, it’s very, very wrong and mischievous to portray us as a collection of old selfish farmers who don’t want to give up their land,” he said.

On Monday night, safety campaigners from the A5: Enough is Enough group warned it was "only a matter of time" before more people died on the A5.

Hosted by Tyrone GAA, supporters heard from loved ones of road victims including Kate Corrigan, whose son Nathan was killed in a crash in December 2021 along with friends Peter Finnegan and Petey McNamee.

In a statement, the DfI said it was "acutely aware of the collision history along the existing road" and acknowledged the suffering of bereaved families.

"The department is doing all we can within our powers to progress the A5 Western Transport project in line with statutory procedures," the spokesperson said.

Northern Ireland news