New Civil Service powers could mean A5 go-ahead
New legal powers for civil servants could allow construction on the new A5 dual carriageway to start by late next year, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has said.
The major road scheme between Londonderry and Aughnacloy, which was first announced in July 2007, was delayed again after a judge quashed a decision last year's to proceed with the project.
The DfI was preparing to mount a challenge to the latest judicial review brought by a group of landowners opposed to the dual carriageway.
But in the wake of the High Court ruling that senior civil servants did not have to power to approve the controversial the Arc 21 waste incinerator, DfI opted not to mount a defence.
It meant vesting orders and the direction to start the project issued in November 2017 were no longer valid.
But the DfI confirmed yesterday that it would retrace its steps and use the new legislative powers introduced by Parliament in October to unblock the logjam created by the collapse of the Stormont Executive.
In a statement, the DfI said that, subject to "further issues that emerge", construction on the initial phase of the scheme between Newbuildings in Londonderry and Strabane in Co Tyrone "could commence on site in late 2019".
"The A5 remains a very high priority for the department and it will now move immediately to carry out the necessary work to enable a fresh decision on the project to be taken during 2019," said a spokesperson.
The DfI said that the re-run of the process would involve a six-week public consultation process as well as an addendum to the existing environmental statement.
Construction Employers Federation managing director John Armstrong said the department had moved speedily.
"As this decision is, ultimately, tied to the passing of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act and its associated guidance, it is now critical that all government departments follow the lead of the DfI by seeking to utilise the powers of the new legislation to bring forward a range of capital works, both public and private sector, which are currently unable to progress for a variety of reasons," he said.
"It is also critical that we see consistency in application of the Act and its associated guidance by all government departments as it must, in the continued absence of ministers, be the means by which greater certainty can be applied to all levels of public sector construction works."
Since September 2016, 38 people have died along the full stretch of the existing A5 road.
Sinn Fein West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley said: "Recent fatalities on the A5 have once again reflected the need for enhanced infrastructure to improve road safety on one of the most dangerous roads in Ireland."
West Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said the fact the project had still not been delivered was "reprehensible".
"Today's comments are welcome, but it is a travesty we've got to this position on the first place," he added.
"The west and north-west of this province deserve this road, which will prevent death, increase investment and grow connectivity.
"This scheme has generated widespread support from the public and businesses alike.
"There can be no more kicking the can down the road."