Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Put us on the right road to a more prosperous future

In 2005 the government promised the A6 Belfast-Derry road was a priority. So why are we still waiting, asks Sinead McLaughlin

Where in Western Europe is the worst road connection between a capital city and its second city? I couldn't prove this, but I defy anyone to find a worse road link than the A6 between Belfast and Londonderry.

A motorway link – such as the one proposed by government back in 1964 – would provide a travel time of little more than an hour for the 70-mile distance.

Yet, as those of us who regularly make the journey know only too well, it often takes two hours.

The main explanations are only too obvious: Moneynick and Dungiven.

As vehicles leave the M22 motorway, they hit a single-lane road that makes us feel that we are back in the 1960s – except with more modern tractors and long traffic jams.

Further along the route from Belfast, we have the weather-affected Glenshane Pass and the slow-moving Dungiven town centre.

Little progress has been made on the Belfast-Derry road in recent years.

Sections of the road have been improved, but businesses, commuters and pleasure travellers remain frustrated.

I was present when the then- secretary of state promised, in 2005, that the A6 would become an infrastructure priority. Yet still we are waiting.

Quality roads matter. They bring goods to market quicker. They allow networking connections to be made. In short, they are essential for the economy to work effectively.

The lack of decent road links from Derry to either Belfast or Dublin severely hobbles our regional economy and our businesses.

The Londonderry Chamber of Commerce is keen to see the road networks from Derry to both Belfast and Dublin improved.

This will reduce the geographical isolation felt by our city, which hinders our businesses and deters inward investment.

But a very happy side-effect at this moment of severe economic pain in the most deprived region of Northern Ireland is that the construction work itself would create jobs and spending power. We need it.

There is now a real risk that this entire period of Assembly government will pass without addressing the roads system deficit of the north west.

That would not only be an economic tragedy, but for businesses in and around Derry it would be a criminal failure.

If – as now looks likely – the A5 does not go ahead, it is absolutely essential that the £330m allocated to it by the Northern Ireland Assembly is redirected to the A6.

Much of the A6 route upgrade has received approvals enabling progress to be made almost immediately. That must happen.

In actual fact, as far as businesses here are concerned, that must happen whether or not the A5 upgrade eventually takes place.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce welcomes the indications from the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, that the UK Government may provide support for Northern Ireland's weak infrastructure.

That is what the chamber urged when we met her last November and it is what the last government promised – but which was never fully delivered.

However, while we strongly support the aspiration of an inclusive and shared society, delays in achieving this should not be used as a justification for delaying the delivery of that support.

The Londonderry Chamber of Commerce is clear that we have two major priorities to improve our economy and tackle our crisis of unemployment and impoverishment.

We need a 21st-century road to Belfast and the substantial expansion of the University of Ulster's Magee campus.

We call on the Northern Ireland Executive, the Assembly and the secretary of state to deliver what is so obviously needed.

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