Northern Ireland

A5 will never be completed Belfast High Court told

A5 road
Image caption No work can be done on the scheme until after the court case

A major new cross-border road scheme to link Dublin and Londonderry will probably never be fully completed, the High Court has been told.

Lawyers for a group seeking to block sections of the plan argued the Irish government is no longer committed to funding the overall upgrade.

The Irish government was to have provided £400m to the project, but later withdrew this and offered £50m.

It has said, however, that it remains politically committed to the A5.

A group of 18 farmers, businessmen and landowners, calling themselves the Alternative A5 Alliance, have launched a legal challenge to the planned 53-mile stretch of dual carriageway between Derry and Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

The scheme, the largest of its kind ever in Northern Ireland, forms part of a proposed key cross-border business route.

The alliance is now seeking to judicially review plans to press ahead with two sections of the route, for which the Northern Ireland Executive has approved £280m.

Work on the dual carriageway has been put on hold due to the legal intervention.

Lawyers for the alliance claim it is now a different project, and that no proper environmental impact assessment has been carried out.

Opening their challenge in court, Gregory Jones QC also argued that "a crack" has appeared in the Department for Regional Development's case.

He contended there was no evidence to back up hopes of having the overall route completed by 2025.

"There is no commitment by the Irish government to provide the money at any time," he told Mr Justice Stephens.

"There has been no assessment of the compelling case in terms of phased delivery because the minister doesn't even know at what date, even if you can believe and take as evidence a commitment which has no enforceability by the minister, that someday somewhere a third element of the scheme will be completed.

"There is no evidence to support at what date that will be. That could be 10 years, 100 years, 200 years on the evidence, or never, as we all know is the likelihood."

Earlier, David Elvin QC, for the department indicated that a fresh environmental impact assessment may be required for the third phase of the scheme if it is hit by protracted delays.

"The circumstances will have to be considered as they stand at that date," he said.

Mr Jones described this as "an extraordinary concession" on the government's part.

The hearing, which is expected to last for three days, continues.

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