A5 scheme: Danny Kennedy 'won't be rushed'

By Louise Cullen

image captionThe A5 project is the largest road scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland

The new minister for regional development has said he will not be stampeded into a decision on the A5 Western Transport Corridor scheme.

Danny Kennedy offered no guarantees that the £850m project will go ahead.

His department is gathering evidence at a public inquiry.

Mr Kennedy said he would wait for the outcome before making a decision and and many landowners will be anxious to hear what he has to say.

The A5 project is the largest road scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland. It will cost £850m, with about £400m of that coming from the Republic.

Its 55-mile length has been divided into three parts - Section 1, New Buildings to Sion Mills; Section 2, Sion Mills to South of Omagh; and Section 3, South of Omagh to Aughnacloy.

The entire route would be dualled, with no right turns allowed and £35m has already been spent on developing the project.

Thousands of objects

The proposed new route affects hundreds of farmers and businesses, bypassing towns and villages along the way.

Thousands of objections were received, before the inquiry started earlier this month.

The first two weeks were taken up with what Roads Service and project consultants Mouchel called a "strategic" session.

That looked at the overall scheme and its rationale.

It heard from several people and groups, on matters such as drainage, environmental and economic issues.

Each of the three road sections now has a fortnight devoted to them, taking the inquiry into July.

Paltry audience

However, the opening of the Section 1 inquiry in Strabane was something of a damp squib.

On Monday morning, the Roads Service representative, Conor Loughrey and Paul Carey from Mouchel, presented their evidence to a paltry audience.

image captionCastletown House will be demolished if the road takes the recommended route

The rest of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, was set aside for cross-examination of that evidence.

However, only one woman asked questions on Monday and the inquiry adjourned early in the afternoon.

During Tuesday and Wednesday, just one other person turned up to ask questions. The inquiry, with full support staff and officials present, was opened and adjourned several times.

Thursday saw the start of submissions from those affected by the route.

They have to fund their own representation.


One farmer, Derek Donnell, told the inspectors it was very intimidating to be asked to cross-examine, when the department was represented by a barrister and he was "just a farmer".

Human Rights Commissioner Monica McWilliams has written to the DRD, highlighting her concerns that "objectors are at a disadvantage, because they do not have resources to access expert knowledge or the experience to scrutinise the state's case".

Among the objectors giving evidence to the inquiry was Cecil Martin, the owner of a Grade B(1) listed building.

Castletown House, Mr Martin's home, will be demolished if the road takes the route recommended by the Department's engineers.

His representative, property consultant Tom Kirby of GVA, told the inquiry the department's environmental statement was defective.

He said under PPS6, the demolition of listed buildings should be "wholly exceptional and require the strongest justification".

Paul Reid of Mouchel replied there would be environmental implications if the route was to be moved and, he added, there had been no objection lodged by either the Northern Ireland Environment Agency or the Planning Service about the demolition of Mr Martin's listed house.

The inquiry inspector, John Cargo, said all evidence would be considered before the publication of any findings, expected late this year.

More residents and landowners around New Buildings, Sion Mills and Strabane are to give evidence over the next week, before the inquiry moves to Omagh and then to Ballygawley.