An army of green campaigners has descended on a quiet Co Tyrone village to add their voices to the groundswell of opposition to Northern Ireland’s biggest road scheme.
The campaigners are protesting the controversial A5 upgrade, which will see a new dual carriageway through countryside between Aughnacloy and Londonderry.
The campaigners were arriving this morning at Climate Camp Ireland in the village of Victoria Bridge, one of the places affected by the new road.
The campaigners were invited by locals to camp there in the support of the ‘Alternative A5’ campaign, which says the Roads Service should add another lane to the present A5 and upgrade its junctions.
They have warned that the lack of access points on the proposed dual carriageway could cut communities in two and cause serious environmental damage.
Climate Camp Ireland organisers said activists would be coming from all over Ireland to oppose the new 86km stretch of road because of increased fuel emissions.
They described the plan as an outdated solution to traffic congestion, calling for money to be invested in restoring the railway line that once ran to Derry.
Spokesperson Catherine Friedrich said: “Trying to solve traffic congestion by building a new road is like trying to solve obesity by letting out your belt.
“People will use the transport infrastructure that is provided and if that is a road rather than rail, then emissions will increase. Why are both of our governments creating carbon intensive infrastructure when the sustainable alternative of rail exists?
“Rail rather than dual carriageway is what Climate Camp and Alternative A5 Alliance are suggesting. This proposed A5 is not a solution. The benefits of rail are clear. It shortens journey times more than a dual carriageway will, it provides permanent jobs, and isn't unsustainable high carbon infrastructure.”
Lynne Smith of the Alternative A5 Alliance said residents of Co Tyrone did not want the future marred by the destruction of community farms and livelihoods.
“This is our future and our children's future. Neither do we want to see the destruction of our natural ‘carbon sink’ — the fields and trees of Tyrone — for the sake of a theoretical saving of 20 minutes’ journey time,” she said.
Retired teacher and solicitor Bernadette Grant, Omagh
“I cannot understand how any group of people can be opposed to the provision of the proposed new dual carriageway between Aughnacloy and Derry.
“The provision of a modern road is absolutely necessary for the economic and commercial development of the region.
“Without such a road there will be no serious capital investment and there is a great need for such investment as the population of the area is suffering serious disadvantage.
“The investment ... will boost the morale of the people and improve the development prospects of the region.
“Since the Tyrone County Hospital no longer provides many necessary vital medical services, we are dependant on accessing these services in Altnagelvin Hospital.
“To do so, one has to drive along the slow, single-lane A5 through five villages and negotiate the long, hazardous Strabane bypass. For this reason alone the proposed dual carriageway is badly needed.”
Retired teacher John Dunbar, Newtownstewart
“We think it’s a complete waste of public taxpayers’ money to build such a massive road when there is already a fairly good road that only needs an extra lane and some other minor improvements. This plan is going to cost a billion pounds before it is finished and have a severe impact on some very good farming areas.
“There will be great difficulties at the northern end, where it is close to the River Foyle, and will be going through eight or nine miles of floodplain. It will take millions of tonnes of rock.
“It will have an impact on the ecosystem of the river. No matter what they do, it will be another Ballygawley — there will be pollution.
“Farms are being severed and this is causing a lot of consternation. There are only eight points of access on the entire road — it will be very wasteful if you can’t get on it.
“It’s total overkill — it doesn’t make any real sense in this day and age when we are trying to save our planet.”