Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Trees felled, fields scarred... the landscape torn up for a road plan that's been shelved

Some of the trees that have been felled, but the proposed A5 dual carriageway has still not been given the green light
Some of the trees that have been felled, but the proposed A5 dual carriageway has still not been given the green light

On one farm a 300-year-old oak tree was felled to stop bats from roosting in it.

Another has been bisected by concrete post-and-wire fencing. On a third, the fields are denuded of grass and scarred with trenches where archaeologists have been digging.

Farmers whose land was earmarked for the A5 dual carriageway say they wish they had barred Roads Service contractors from "jumping the gun" and carrying out preliminary work on their fields – particularly now the decision to build the road has been quashed in the High Court.

This week, Mr Justice Stephens confirmed that he would be quashing the Department for Regional Development decision to press ahead with the £330m dual carriageway from Aughnacloy to Newbuildings because it had breached EU conservation laws. Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has since told MLAs that DRD is still pursuing the scheme.

The Alternative A5 Alliance campaign group said Roads Service thought so little of the judicial review that it paid £750,000 of public funds in compensation to a small number of owners.

Meanwhile, some of the "vandalism" done to land is irreversible, such as the felling of the 300-year-old oak.

"What has been done to farms is akin to having strangers take over the best room in your home and then you have to watch them trash it," spokesperson Laura Kwasniewska said.

Colin Robinson, who farms between Ballygawley and Augher, said he was forced to sell off his beef herd because he was losing grazing land.

"So far, DRD have put up some of the fencing and done test holes and boreholes which went through about a month ago. The land was badly chewed up by the machinery – it's a bit of a mess now," he told the Belfast Telegraph. Roads Service contractors felled the ancient oak on his land to prevent bats from roosting in it – instead of simply blocking up crevices.

"It sounds very much as if they have jumped the gun," he said.

Farmer David Throne said Roads Service contractors put in two rows of concrete posts in early February when ground conditions were too poor for the land to be accessed.

"The ground is rough now. You couldn't do anything on it – there's no grass or anything on it," he said.

A DRD spokesman said it was not making any further comment on the A5 development.

However, in response to a written Assembly question on the issue, Mr Kennedy said: "I want to assure Members that my department continues to pursue this scheme; and I remain focused on achieving the important benefits flowing from it – in terms of the important cash flow to the hard-pressed construction sector and the much-needed improvements to the roads network in the west of the province."

Expert's view

Roads enthusiast Wesley Johnston said the ruling does not prevent the road from being built, but has added to the timescale. Abandoning the project would mean writing off tens of millions of pounds. The minister will have to make a decision that will get him criticised no matter what he does, he said. "Either way, a lot of money and time will have been wasted."

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