Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

New road not the way to prosperity

There is no doubt that big government capital programmes are the quickest and easiest way to pump prime the local economy. Given the current economic climate and the lack of inward investment, there is certainly a very strong argument in favour of £330m A5 road upgrade. It will be a huge boost to the construction industry which is going through hard times and provide much-needed employment. Certainly this newspaper is supportive of public sector works which are necessary and can be cost effective.

It is that latter part - the cost effectiveness - which is much worrying about the A5 project. It has caused huge blight in its wake with 419 landowners affected and seven homes being demolished to make way for the improvements. But the totality of the scheme is not being implemented. When it was first mooted the Republic's Government promised substantial funding towards it, but then had to renege on its pledge when its own economy went into meltdown.

Two key stretches of the route from Ballygawley to Londonderry will not now be improved until the missing funding is found from some source. That undermines the project to an extent, although the road improvements given the go-ahead will be substantial and could improve both access and safety. Yet there is a niggling doubt remaining about the project and the enthusiasm for it in political circles. Some people have criticised it as the road to nowhere - which is a harsh description - but it does seem like a politically expedient project, rather than one of compelling need.

It could be argued that improving the route between Belfast and Londonderry to dual carriageway standard along its entirety would have greater economic benefits and be more widely used. That is not to deny that remedial work on the A5 is required, but whether on the scale proposed is a very moot point. Improving the overall road network and public transport might be better use of public funds.

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