Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

£330m A5 upgrade plan perverse, says green group

Big plans are afoot for the A5. Picture Martin McKeown.

Environmentalists have reacted with anger to the announcment that a £330 million scheme to upgrade two stretches of road across two counties in Northern Ireland has been given the green light today.

Work to build dual carriageways between Derry and Strabane and Omagh and Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, will begin in the autumn and take two and a half years to complete.

It could mean as many 800 new construction industry jobs.

But green campaigners claim the project would impact on the poor and vulnerable because of the funding needed to meet the costs.

Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director James Orr said: "To build vast stretches of new road when our existing transport network is struggling to cope is to tarmac our way straight down a dead-end street.

"Perversely, the proposed scheme will likely make congestion worse, as motorists converge on the bottlenecks at the ends of each stretch of new road."

He added: "This massive new road will wreck hundreds of farms and divert much-needed investment from public transport and for improving existing roads.

"By not exploring alternatives such as improved rail links, access to a modern bus service, better walking and cycling, straightening dangerous bends, and filling in the potholes, we will be left with a hugely expensive metaphor for the lack of direction or vision of the big four political parties."

Regional Development minister Danny Kennedy signalled the go-ahead following a public inquiry in the aftermath of objections by farmers whose land will be affected by the development of the A5, which carries a huge volume of traffic.

The first stretch runs for around nine miles between New Buildings on the outskirts of Derry and Strabane, and the second, 14 miles between Omagh and Ballygawley.

A recommendation to upgrade the road between Ballygawley and neighbouring Aughnacloy on the Tyrone/Monaghan border has been postponed.

The minister said the new roads were key to the development of the economy. They would also help safety standards.

He said: "There are almost 1,400 junctions and accesses onto the existing A5 which contribute to the potential for accidents along this route.

"The collision history is a factor which cannot be ignored and the A5 upgrade will help to reduce the number of collisions by providing improved cross sections, forward visibility and alignment as well as separating strategic and local traffic."

The public inquiry was held following an outcry by farmers and community groups.

Mr Kennedy added: "I am well aware of the strong local opposition to some elements of the scheme.

"Every effort has been made to reduce the impact of the road scheme on property and landowners. The rights of those affected are safeguarded and they will receive compensation in accordance with a series of Acts of Parliament, case law and established practice.

"In addition to the legal safeguards I assure those land and property owners that Roads Service will continue to work to reach agreement and resolve, where possible, any outstanding individual difficulties."

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