The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) must take whatever steps it can to put the A5 Western Transport Corridor project back on track as soon as possible, a leading business organisation has said.
The long-awaited Londonderry – Aughnacloy road scheme, which in the absence of an elected minister was approved by a senior DfI official in November 2017, has again been put on hold following a legal challenge.
But Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, which has been campaigning for the road upgrade for many years, has called on the department to use new powers granted by the government in the absence of a devolved administration to push ahead with construction of the 85km dual carriageway – Northern Ireland’s biggest road project.
Stressing that the DfI has carefully considered the recent court decisions and the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, a department spokesperson said: “The A5 remains a very high priority for the department and officials and legal advisors are now considering how best to expedite the scheme.
“At the point where a decision is ready to be made and in the continued absence of ministers, the department will consider whether to issue a decision taking account of the provisions of the NI (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 and the associated guidance issued by the Secretary of State.”
Welcoming the DfI’s statement, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce president Jennifer McKeever said: “For decades, our chamber has been engaged in a strong and sustained North West lobby to improve access through our main road link with Dublin. Finally, we were assured that construction on phase one of the scheme would begin earlier this year, only to be disappointed yet again by the latest in a long line of delays to the upgrade project. The longer this delay continues the greater the cost will be to our regional economy.
“The department’s designation of the project as a ‘very high priority’ is very welcome to the business community in the North West cross-border region. It’s important to our economic growth prospects that the department now takes whatever steps it can to put this project back on track as soon as possible.”
Ms McKeever said the High Court order to quash approval for the A5 road scheme on the basis that it was not signed off by a minister had been “a major blow to the North West”.
Describing the ruling as “hugely disappointing for the local business community”, she added: “Long-awaited work on modernising the Derry to Dublin route should be well under way but the power-sharing vacuum at Stormont has delayed this vital scheme further.
“The shelving of the A5 project is the latest evidence that the North West economy continues to count the cost of the inability of our politicians to form a government.”