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Bill for Northern Ireland A5 upgrade rises by £3m but not a sod has been turned

By Cate McCurry

The cost of Northern Ireland's most beleaguered roads project has jumped by another £3 million in eight months.

The A5 has been beset by problems since it was given the go-ahead by the Executive in 2007.

Despite major setbacks stalling the scheme, millions of pounds in public money is being spent on consultation fees and the ongoing public inquiry.

Daniel McCrossan, an SDLP MLA for West Tyrone, tabled a question to the Assembly querying the amount spent on the project this financial year.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said: "As at the end of November 2016, the expenditure on the A5 WTC (western transport corridor) in the current financial year amounted to £2.818m.

"These costs are mainly associated with the project consultant's ongoing design work as well as their preparation for and participation in the public inquiry, which is scheduled to finish in mid-December 2016."

The public inquiry, now in its third month, is being led by the Planning Appeals Commission.

Mr McCrossan said: "The budget for the A5 for this year is just over £13m yet not a sod has been turned in constructing the new road.

"I am concerned that the remaining £10m will go back to the department or into the monitoring round process, rather than being spent on the A5.

"For me, and for the general public, the benefits of the A5 development are crystal clear and it's now time that the department got on with the job.

"It will open up economic opportunity for one of the most deprived areas, it will increase transport connectivity, and it will reduce deaths on our roads.

"This week I've attended two funerals of yet more young people who've lost their lives on this road. Five more have been killed since August, and 32 lives have been lost over the past 10 years - 27 of those have happened after the A5 scheme was initially announced."

It comes weeks after the Alternative Alliance A5 (AA5A) - which is against the project - lost a legal challenge.

A High Court judge rejected claims that the justification for the scheme will not be properly considered at the public inquiry.

Ciaran McClean from the AA5A said: "These are gigantic amounts of money which add hundreds of millions to the insurmountable bill of the proposed A5 project."

Mr McClean, who is also a member of the Green Party, said the allotted £400m for the project should be used to upgrade the existing road.

He added: "The Green Party's consistent position on the A5 is that the £800m proposed scheme is unattainable within the Executive's budget.

"Every penny spent on the A5WTC project is a potential waste - even if the minister is granted permission to progress the scheme, the Executive does not have the funds to see the project through.

"This does nothing for road safety or economic development."

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