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£160m A6 upgrade through Seamus Heaney landscape can be challenged, rules court

By Alan Erwin

Published 24/11/2016

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney

An environmentalist has won High Court permission to challenge a planned new £160 million road being built through landscape made famous by poet Seamus Heaney.

Chris Murphy was granted leave to seek a judicial review over an alleged breach of a directive on a specially protected area close to a section of the A6 Belfast to Derry upgrade.

A judge said there was still uncertainty surrounding ecological checks carried out on the potential disturbance to wildlife on Lough Neagh and Lough Beg from the proposed Toome to Castledawson stretch.

Mr Murphy was jubilant at clearing the first stage in his bid to halt the road passing through an area near Mossbawn, Co Derry - the former Nobel laureate's childhood home.

Outside court he said: "Heaney is fundamental to this landscape, the wild and the wet inspired him and he immortalised it in his work.

"You have got dozens of places in his poetry that will be destroyed by the impact of the noise of a motorway so close to Mossbawn."

The disputed route for dual carriageway scheme was identified following a public inquiry nearly a decade ago.

With commuters regularly facing rush-hour gridlock, the intention is to significantly improve the transport corridor connecting Belfast to Derry.

Mr Murphy, an ornithologist who took legal action as a self-litigant, issued proceedings after Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard gave the green light to the scheme earlier this year.

Although other grounds of challenge were dismissed, Mr Justice Maguire held that an arguable case has been established on an alleged breach of the habitats directive giving protected status to the Loughs.

He noted that further assessments have been carried out since the Department first made checks on the presence of nesting birds, badgers and bats, and to ensure minimisation of disturbance to whooper swans.

But the judge said he was unclear whether these actions were part of a fulfillment of the habitats directive obligations.

"The court is left wondering about the impact or otherwise of the checks being carried out," he added.

"The question relates to whether the checks, if they had produced a negative outcome in the sense of a conclusion there would be an adverse impact being demonstrated... would this have led to the existing scheme being abandoned."

Mr Justice Maguire stressed that any concerns may be eased once further information is supplied.

However, he ruled that the challenge should proceed to a full hearing early next year.

"There's substantial public interest involved in a case like this," he said.

"Stopping a major road project is a matter of considerable importance."

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