Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland political deadlock 'could scupper key A5 project'

By Noel McAdam

The Stormont stalemate is endangering the long-awaited upgrade of the A5 road, an MLA has said.

Daniel McCrossan sounded alarm bells after he learned only £13m had been allocated for the Western Transport Corridor project this year.

That's despite funding originally pledged by Dublin looking like it may be put back in place.

The planned 85km of dual carriageway from the border at Aughnacloy to Newbuildings outside Londonderry has been beset with problems since it was given the green light by the Executive in 2007.

Now Mr McCrossan has urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to "stop bickering" and press ahead with the project.

"It is hugely concerning that instead of £53m being spent in the last two years, only £13m will actually be spent - and that's only if the scheme gets up and going by the end of the year," the West Tyrone MLA said.

"The constant delays in the scheme, the political uncertainty and bickering between the DUP and Sinn Fein have really left the scheme in jeopardy long-term.

"Funding meant for the A5 will be going elsewhere.

"It's especially concerning if we consider that the southern government looks like recommitting £400m for the A5 upgrade.

"It's time the bickering Stormont parties put up or shut up.

"This is the most important infrastructure scheme on this island and it is being put at risk."

In a letter to the SDLP MLA, Peter May, permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure, confirmed that even without a minister in place, he can kickstart the first phase from Newbuildings to just north of Strabane.

He wrote: "However, there remains the risk of a legal challenge to the scheme. This would be despite our every effort to ensure full compliance with all statutory and environmental requirements.

"Unfortunately, if a challenge materialises, further delay to the scheme is likely to result.

He said the initial indicative allocation was £229m, but just £10m had been earmarked for the financial year 2017/18.

The Department for Infrastructure last night said: "The department remains fully committed to delivery of the A5 scheme as soon as possible.

"The change in budget is as a result of reprofiling the £229m budget allocation to align with scheme delivery.

"The first phase of work will be from Newbuildings to north of Strabane in line with the Fresh Start Agreement and is planned to commence in late 2017, subject to completion of all the preparatory stages."

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