Roads to improvement

Progressive transport networks are essential to the economic development of any region. Historic underinvestment in infrastructure in the North West has stifled its competitive edge and produced economic disparity. A series of projects aim to redress this obstacle to growth.

One of the five key transport corridors outlined in the Regional Transportation Strategy for Northern Ireland is the A5 Western Transport Corridor (A5WTC). The £800 million development of this corridor represents an attempt to improve connectivity between urban hubs in the North West region, including Derry, Strabane, Omagh and Aughnacloy. The proposed scheme will introduce 85km of dual carriageway from Newbuildings (south of Derry city) to the Tyrone/Monaghan border at Aughnacloy. The scheme has five core objectives, including:

  • improvement of road safety;
  • improvement of the road network west of the Bann as well as north/south links;
  • reduction in journey travel times;
  • provision of increased overtaking opportunities; and
  • development of final proposals in light of safety, economic, environmental, integration and accessibility considerations.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard outlined: “I have reaffirmed my commitment to remedy the North’s infrastructure deficit; particularly west of the Bann. The A5 transport corridor is one such development that will link Derry, Strabane, Omagh and Ballygawley and unlock the potential for future economic development of these areas.”

A legal challenge concerning the need and justification for the A5 scheme, which would have provoked a judicial review, was dismissed by the High Court and will not be considered at an ongoing public inquiry. The campaign group behind the legal bid, Alternative A5 Alliance, had previously succeeded in their first legal action.

Speaking on a second challenge based upon an alleged failure to conduct a strategic environmental assessment, Justice Keegan stated: “I consider there’s a degree of prematurity to this ground of challenge.” She added: “Whilst the Programme for Government consultation process is ongoing and whilst the public inquiry is ongoing I do not consider I should finally determine this issue.” The separate challenge has consequently been adjourned with a new target date for the commencement of the project set for late 2017.

A6

A £160 million investment in the arterial A6 Belfast to Derry road is also set to face judicial review on a single issue. While Justice Maguire granted leave due to an alleged breach of the Habitats Directive, he dismissed all other grounds of challenge brought by ornithologist Chris Murphy. The High Court ruled that an uncertainty exists regarding ecological assessments of the potential disturbance to protected status of wildlife on Loughs Neagh and Beg. Murphy had also raised concerns regarding the significance of the area as an inspiration for the work of the late Seamus Heaney.

Minister Hazzard asserted his Department’s intention to pursue its options for the commencement of construction along the remaining, unchallenged segment of the project and ensure a swift conclusion to the judicial review. A full hearing will proceed early in 2017.

If successful, the project will ensure that 14.7km of the A6 North Western Transport Corridor between Randalstown and Castledawson is upgraded to dual carriageway. Expressing disappointment on behalf of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), Policy Manager Seamus Leheny stated: “The A6 is the main strategic road for transporting commercial goods between Derry, mid-Ulster and the wider North West and it is vital that the scheme gets back on track as soon as possible to ensure the economic wellbeing of local industry and of commercial vehicle operators using this key transport corridor.” The FTA was also critical of the Department for Infrastructure and emphasised that the legal challenge had similar basis as that which had previously delayed the A5 project.

Likewise, Chief Executive of Derry Chamber of Commerce, Sinead McLaughlin explained: “Although the section involved, from Castledawson to the Toome by-pass, is not in the North West, this road improvement is vital in order to improve the road connectivity for Derry, Donegal and the rest of our region.”

Proposed benefits include:

  • empowerment of competitive advantage;
  • facilitation of inward investment;
  • reduction in social isolation;
  • improved integration; and
  • linkage of people to information, services and opportunity.

Hazzard concluded: “Joined up working between central and local government is key to delivering the draft Programme for Government outcomes to create a better society. Alongside projects like the A5 and A6, and the development of City of Derry Airport, those living west of the Bann are set to see a real change in the development of the local infrastructure over the coming years.”

City of Derry Airport

Earlier this year, Roy Devine, Chairman of the City of Derry Airport told Derry and Strabane councillors that the airport would run at a loss (currently at £2.145 million) until 2021/2022. Despite this deficit being covered by Derry City and Strabane District Council ratepayers, Devine has argued: “I think the airport is vital to the infrastructure of the North West. I think the city would be poorer without having it.”

Following a reduction in several routes from the airport, the Executive announced a £7 million package to help facilitate growth and development. £2.5 million is earmarked for route development support while the remaining £4.5 capital investment, in partnership with the local council, aims to create employment and training opportunities.

Related Posts