Salmon are known as the king of fish and they certainly have cost the Northern Ireland Executive a right royal price – almost £60m. For that is the amount of money that has been spent on the ill-fated A5 roads project which is now dead in the water. It was scuppered after a legal challenge because the impact of the roadworks on two of the province's finest salmon rivers had been overlooked.
It was an ambitious project from the outset, costing up to £850m to dual the roadway between Aughnacloy and Londonderry. The Dublin government initially promised £400m but this was withdrawn when the Republic went virtually bankrupt. Yet there was a dogged determination on the part of the Stormont administration to continue and £60m was spent on consultancy fees, surveys and construction work. It always carried the whiff of a vanity project.
In many ways it was a textbook example of how not to approach a project of this size. All the bases should have been covered before any final decision was taken preventing this waste of money, particularly at a time of austerity. As ever it seems that the only people to benefit were consultants and lawyers, although there will be relief from the many landowners along the route who were vehemently opposed to the road widening.
If anything is to be rescued from this debacle then the money earmarked for the A5 should be re-routed to upgrading the main Belfast to Londonderry route. It makes sense to ease the bottlenecks on the main road between the two main cities in the province, especially since the rail link between them is of relatively poor quality. This would surely ease commercial traffic between the cities and be of more benefit to the economy than creating an improved corridor between Derry and the borderlands of the Republic. Roads Minister Danny Kennedy should now cut his losses and begin planning for improving this route.