Belfast Telegraph

Bill for Northern Ireland road hits £80m and not one yard of tarmac laid

 

By Adrian Rutherford

Almost £80 million has been spent to date on Northern Ireland's biggest road scheme - despite the project being stalled for a decade.

The A5 Western Transport Corridor was given the go-ahead by the Executive in 2007. It would see the A5 upgraded to a dual carriageway from the border near Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, via Omagh and Strabane, to Londonderry.

But for 10 years it has been in limbo amid legal wrangles and funding issues - and all the time the bill has spiralled.

Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show the expenditure by the Department for Infrastructure (formerly Department for Regional Development) since November 2007 totals £77,002,796. That is equivalent to more than £22,000 a day.

More than £20m has been spent since April 2013, when a High Court ruling slammed the brakes on the scheme.

Revised plans were put forward and, after a second legal challenge failed in late 2016, the first phase of the scheme could get under way later this year.

Yet the final completion date will now be years after the original 2015 deadline, and well over the £800m initial budget.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, whose West Tyrone constituency would benefit from the new road, hit out at the growing cost.

"It's hugely concerning that one-tenth of the overall budget has been spent on the A5 yet not a single sod has been turned," he said.

"There has been delay after delay, and escalating costs, yet there hasn't been a single tangible benefit for the people of the west."

The Executive agreed to proceed with the A5 project in July 2007. A preferred route was announced in 2009.

The 58.2 mile-long dual carriageway was estimated to cost between £650m and £850m. Around £400m was to come from the Irish Government.

At the time Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said the road could lessen journey times by up to 20 minutes.

However, the project - the single largest road scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland - has been dogged by setbacks.

In November 2011 the Republic withdrew most of its £400m funding. Three months later it was announced that the project would be broken up and built in phases. Then, in April 2013 a High Court judge quashed a decision to proceed with the scheme. At this stage some £56.4m had already been spent. A fresh legal challenge was attempted last August, but was thrown out in November.

The current £77m bill comprises £46,952,685 on consultants; £20,026,776 on contractors; £841,036 on archaeology; £3,933,357 on ground investigation; £1,049,607 on "services"; £2,787,879 on land-related costs including compensation; £329,237 on third party costs, and £1,082,219 on public consultations and inquiries in 2011 and 2016.

Mr McCrossan said it was essential that the A5WTC proceeded without delay and that it had the "potential to transform the lives of people living in the west".

"The A5 will open up economic opportunity and provide jobs, it will increase transport connectivity and, importantly, save lives from unnecessary road deaths," he said.

"I recently met with the Department for Infrastructure permanent secretary, who is fully committed to progressing the scheme.

"However, it is concerning that further delays, and the possibility of judicial review, have the potential to park the scheme for months on end." He added that the lack of an Executive meant key strategic decisions were in limbo.

During his visit to Northern Ireland last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Dublin remained committed to part-funding the road.

The Department for Infrastructure said: "The department can confirm that the A5WTC scheme development costs to date are in the region of £77m (2007 to 2017) with an approximate spend of £21m incurred from April 2013 to May 2017."

It added that work carried out to date includes: reinstating land where construction work had already started prior to the court ruling of April 2013, progressing compensation claims for affected landowners, and engaging in an extensive round of meetings with landowners in 2014 and 2017.

There have also been additional traffic and environmental surveys, the updating of archaeology reports and the compilation and publishing of a new environmental statement and draft statutory orders in 2016.

Other work has included draft reports for assessments under the Habitats Directive and publishing them for consultation in 2014 and 2017, and the updating of contract documents and re-engaging with contractors.

The Institution of Civil Engineers Northern Ireland regional director Richard Kirk added: “The public must understand that notwithstanding the legal process and legal setbacks, a significant amount of work and investment needs to go into pre-construction for any major infrastructure project.

"The consultants and contractors are the engineers and designers who make the actual construction process as smooth and cost-effective as possible. Investing resources in pre-construction helps to prevent expensive and irreversible mistakes from being made after breaking ground.”

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