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Drop NI infrastructure projects like A5 until we're in stronger shape financially, urges MLA

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The planned A5 infrastructure project has seen costs soar to an estimated £1bn

The planned A5 infrastructure project has seen costs soar to an estimated £1bn

The planned A5 infrastructure project has seen costs soar to an estimated £1bn

Major infrastructure projects such as the A5 corridor - which has seen costs soar to an estimated £1bn - should be abandoned until Northern Ireland is on more solid financial ground, an MLA has said.

The A5 Western Transport Corridor (A5WTC), announced in 2007, would better connect the North West to Dublin by dual carriageway.

Earlier completion costs were put at £850m and the project is being jointly funded by the Stormont and Dublin governments.

Trevor Lunn, a former member of the Alliance Party who is now an Independent MLA, said that while the A5 was a "worthwhile project", it has already faced lengthy delays because of expensive legal challenges.

In response to questions submitted to the Infrastructure Minister, Mr Lunn said £81.5m has already been spent on legal challenges before construction has even begun.

He said: "I have no problem with the concept of the A5, I think it is a worthwhile project but Government is about priorities and right now I think the A5 will just have to take its place in the list of priorities.

"At the moment, the health of the population is our absolute priority at the moment and the economy comes after that and infrastructure projects.

"The A5, as it is, isn't in good shape and it is the cause of a lot of accidents and there is far too much heavy traffic, but it is bearable."

Cost was estimated at £650-£850m with construction to start in 2012 and completion in 2018.

It was included as a commitment under the Fresh Start Agreement in 2016, with a budget allocation of £230m over the four years to 2020-2021.

Mr Lunn said costs will inevitably rise if the project is allowed to go ahead. He continued: "Due to legal challenges and public enquiries, since 2007, no substantial construction work has been possible, but £81.5m has been expended, of which approximately £50m has gone to consultants, the remainder to land acquisition, ground investigation, legal fees etc.

"Bearing in mind that every court decision since 2007 has been, in full or in part, favourable to the objectors, more challenges and delay seems inevitable and also inevitable is the cost increases caused by delay.

"The current estimate, if work was able to begin is around £1bn for the three sections with an contribution from the Republic of Ireland, which would have to be renegotiated, of £75m.

"There has been a 10-year delay in commencement with more delay and cost inflation almost certain. The estimated cost overrun is now about £300m."

SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said halting the A5 project would not solve the financial impact of tackling coronavirus. He said: "Of course all necessary resources should be directed towards health and in bolstering our health service.

"All focus now needs to be directed towards tackling this pandemic but cutting a major infrastructure project such as the A5 is not the answer. The money that will be spent on the A5 is a drop in the ocean given the overall Stormont spend.

"If cutting capital projects was the direction of travel, you could look at the Belfast Transport Hub, the North/South Belfast Glider or the Yorkgate interchange projects. They are all costing millions equally."

Mr McCrossan said the A5, when completed, would prove invaluable to boosting Northern Ireland's future economy.

He added: "My support for the A5 remains unfettered. It is an essential project and will be even more important economically for the North West during the recovery process of this pandemic. We also have no rail services here and we've suffered generations of infrastructure neglect.

"This is a time for politicians to work together, this is not and should not be about anything other than saving lives."

Belfast Telegraph