Bird expert succeeds in bid to challenge A6

A picture issued this August of Deirdre Mackle, divisional roads manager, infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard, and Andrew Hitchenor, strategic road improvements manager as the minister announced �160m will be invested in the A6 Randalstown-to-Castledawson dualling scheme

A picture issued this August of Deirdre Mackle, divisional roads manager, infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard, and Andrew Hitchenor, strategic road improvements manager as the minister announced �160m will be invested in the A6 Randalstown-to-Castledawson dualling scheme

An environmentalist has won High Court permission to challenge a planned new £160 million road being built through a landscape made famous by poet Seamus Heaney.

Chris Murphy was granted leave to seek a judicial review over an alleged breach of a directive on a protected area close to a section of the A6 Belfast to Londonderry upgrade.

A judge said there was still uncertainty surrounding ecological checks carried out on the potential disturbance to wildlife on Lough Neagh and Lough Beg from the proposed Toome to Castledawson stretch of carriageway.

Mr Murphy was jubilant at clearing the first stage in his bid to halt the road passing through an area near Mossbawn, Co Londonderry – the former Nobel laureate’s childhood home.

Outside the courthouse in Belfast he said: “Heaney is fundamental to this landscape; the wild and the wet inspired him and he immortalised it in his work.

“You have got dozens of places in his poetry that will be destroyed by the impact of the noise of a motorway so close to Mossbawn.”

The disputed route for dual carriageway scheme was identified following a public inquiry nearly a decade ago.

Mr Murphy, an ornithologist who took legal action as a self-litigant, issued proceedings after transport minister Chris Hazzard gave the scheme the go-ahead this year.

Although other grounds of challenge were dismissed, Mr Justice Maguire held that an arguable case has been established on an alleged breach of the habitats directive giving protected status to the loughs.

He noted that further assessments have been carried out since the department first assessed the presence of nesting birds, badgers, and bats.

But the judge said he was unclear if these actions were part of a fulfilment of the habitats directive obligations.

Mr Justice Maguire ruled that the challenge should proceed to a full hearing early next year.

“There’s substantial public interest involved in a case like this,” he said.

“Stopping a major road project is a matter of considerable importance.”

The Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said after the decision that it was “extremely disappointing and very frustrating that the improvements to the Derry to Belfast A6 road are to be further delayed”.

It added in a statement: “Although the section involved – from the Toome by-pass to Randalstown – is not in the north west, this road improvement is vital in order to improve the road connectivity for Derry, Donegal and the rest of our region.

“It is also vital for Belfast and the whole of Northern Ireland.”

It concluded: “It is essential that lessons are learnt from this experience so that these problems do not recur for each of the key transport schemes needed by the north west.”