Farmers in legal bid to block Northern Ireland's largest road scheme
Farmers have launched a legal bid to block work starting on Northern Ireland's largest road scheme.
They are seeking a High Court judicial review challenging Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy's decision to give the go-ahead for building stretches of dual carriageway on the A5 between Newbuildings, Co Londonderry, and Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.
The action could delay the start of construction, which was due to begin next month.
The first of the vesting orders to begin the process of compulsory acquisition of 1,000 acres of land from some of the farmers affected by the plans have just been issued.
John Dunbar, chairman of the Alternative A5 Alliance - which represents up to 400 farmers, said today: "This started out destined to be a sham and that is how it has turned out to be."
The £330 million scheme to upgrade roads between Newbuildings and Ballymagorry, near Strabane, and Omagh and Ballygawley will have a massive impact on many farms and businesses along the route with hundreds of acres lost.
Some land as well as special areas of conservation are also due to be split leaving farms, it is claimed, unworkable because of the construction and in some cases, a reluctance by roads services to provide underpasses, according to the farmers.
At least seven houses are also expected to demolished.
The Northern Ireland Executive has already committed £330 million towards developing the sections of roadway and initially the Republic's government pledged £400 million.
But this was later withdrawn and Dublin has now offered £50 million instead.
Mr Kennedy signalled the go-ahead in July after a public inquiry which attracted over 2,000 objections.
But the farmers have refused to give up on their fight to stop the work and hired a London-based barrister to represent their case at the High Court in Belfast.
No date has been set for the hearing.
Mr Dunbar, 76, who stands to lose 15 acres outside Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone, claimed the farmers were left with no choice but to go to court.
He said: "We thought we made suitable representation at the inquiry and for the government to apply some common sense.
"We are not objecting to the road being upgraded, but in our view there is no need for two roads running parallel with the traffic going in opposite directions.
"This road is neither necessary nor lawful and we would question the expenditure of so much money on such a project at a time of recession. Hundreds of people will be adversely affected, but their objections have been ignored.
"Our legal challenge was issued on Monday. We wish to reassure landowners that at this point, the vesting process is suspended and the contractors are not allowed to commence work.
"We find the prospect of a judicial review rather daunting in view of the financial costs.
"On the other hands the government, having already spent over £34 million on planning, can now use more tax payers' money to defend their actions.
"Nevertheless, no matter how disadvantaged we are, we believe we have right on our side and will do all that we can to protect our homes, our property and our livelihoods."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Regional Development confirmed it had been served with a notice of an Originating Summons on behalf of the Alliance, seeking a review of the decision to proceed with the scheme.
She added: "The Department is taking legal advice on its response to this application and therefore cannot make any further comment at this time."