Northern Ireland

A8 Larne to Belfast road nears completion

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Media captionWork on the A8 between Larne and Belfast has taken more than three years, as Natalie Lindo reports

In just a matter of weeks the A8 road upgrade will be complete.

Costing £130m, the 14.5km road has been in construction for over three years, dualling it from Larne to Belfast.

But even from its inception, the route and the roadworks have been plagued with criticism.

Of the 147 landowners publicly consulted, 122 objected to the plans.

Many of those objectors have had their homes and businesses affected by the scheme.

But the Department of Regional Development says the upgrade is not just about improving a road.

It hopes the investment will open up East Antrim, for those who chose to commute to Belfast but also solidify its position as a destination and a gateway to places like the Glens of Antrim and beyond.

A8 in numbers

  • 17,000 vehicles use the road daily
  • It will have taken more than 200 million hours to complete
  • The changes will shorten the journey by three to five minutes
  • 300,000 tonnes of material used

Roads Minister Danny Kennedy said he thought it was a positive development.

"I think it opens Northern Ireland for tourism, for business and for the movement of goods and services," he said.

But not everyone along the route has been happy with the upgrade.

One of the most controversial sections was the Ballynure bypass. Its £40m cost is almost a third of the total budget.

Some residents from the village say the original road could simply have been widened and upgraded.

Many businesses on the Larne Road are completely dependent on passing trade, but the bypass means traffic no longer comes through the village.

Image caption The farm owned by Jimmy Mills was split in two by the new road

Jimmy Mills has farmed cattle on his land in Ballynure for 29 years. The road split his land in two, making the movement of livestock and machinery difficult.

"They didn't really consider very much whenever the road project was announced," he said.

"It was something they took into their head they were going to do to create employment at that time, and nobody was going to stop them.

"There are so many people that have been really badly affected by this road."

Image caption Roads Minister Danny Kennedy said the A8 would bring huge economic benefits

Mr Kennedy said he understood that there was some resistance to the move.

"It does mean change and it does bring challenge, we are aware of it," he said

"We've tried to be sympathetic as best we can but ultimately there are huge economic benefits."

There has been significant investment in Larne Port and the harbour area in recent years.

However, passenger numbers have fallen by over 220,000 since 2010. It is unclear if or how the road upgrade could change its fortunes.

In the centre of Larne, the road is a popular topic of conversation.

Those who commute to Belfast are hoping the reduced journey times and easing of the traffic will help them, while others are hoping it will boost house prices and visitor numbers.

Whilst the final road works are due for completion in a matter of weeks, the value of the A8 will be watched most closely by those living alongside it.

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