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A5 scheme is back on the agenda as election looms

Thursday, 4 May 2017

THE Duke of Abercorn has joined the chorus of calls for a renewed effort to see the development of the A5 dual carriageway.

His comments have been backed up by all the major political parties in West Tyrone with many promising to keep it on top of their election agendas in the run into the June 8 general election votes battle.

Speaking at Friday's launch of 'The Herdman Family and Sion Mills' at the Baronscourt estate, the Duke recalled the many reasons why the Herdman family decided to locate in this area and singled out the ready access to the outside world by road and rail. He pointed out a rail link no longer existed while the road option was 'dangerous'.

"Today, of course, there is no rail connection and we are left insulated, indeed isolated from the outside world by an appalling, ancient and dangerous road system that our decision-makers fail to tackle, thus denying the North West, comprising of a 400,000 population, ready access to the major concentrations of activity on this island, namely Belfast and Dublin.

"Therefore, until we have a modern road system, the North West will continue to lose more and more of its talent and also be denied the opportunity of attracting new investment," he said.

This ambitious road scheme, the largest road scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland has been fraught with change and challenge since its inception back in 2007 which aims to provide 85 kilometres (55 miles) of dual carriageway from south of Derry at New Buildings to south of Aughnacloy and should help unlock the potential for future economic development of these areas.

The A5 dual carriageway is a critical project for the economic development of the north-west, particularly now with the uncertainties which have arisen following the EU exit vote. The public inquiry ended about four months ago and there is still no word on a report coming from the Planning Appeals Commission.

As there is no longer a functioning government in Northern Ireland, it is now down to civil servants to progress this scheme. Although the previous Executive has allocated funds for this scheme, and a contractor is already in place, it's not entirely clear if the civil servants alone have the authority to carry the scheme right through to start of construction. Work on the first stretch (Newbuildings to Strabane) is due to begin later this year, but sources say unless the DUP and Sinn Féin can overcome their differences and form a new Executive, this scheme could end up being held up yet again.

DUP MLA, Tom Buchanan, who is expected to be announced as his party's West Tyrone candidate in the forthcoming general election, said he could only describe the current situation regarding the development of the A5 as "sitting in limbo".

"The uncertainty does not help, we're sitting in limbo. I don't know where things are at the moment and it appears no one does. Any delay with something like this is not good. It's not good for farmers, it's not good for businessmen and it's not good for the public. Someone from within the department should come forward and provide some clarification," he said.

He added everyone accepted this sort of infrastructure was needed and even though there as no executive in place, it should still be a priority.

UUP West Tyrone general election candidate, Alicia Clarke, said she had no doubt the A5 was needed now more than ever.

"In my last manifesto I highlighted the fact we needed economic growth here and one of the key things in that is infrastructure and the A5 is part of that."

She added she understood the dangers associated with the current road network and said the development of this road would be high on her election agenda.

The SDLP MLA., Daniel McCrossan, who is also a general election candidate, said the political impasse in Stormont was clearly having a dramatic impact on key infrastructure developments in Northern Ireland.

 "The A5 project has the potential to transform the lives of those living in the west of this province and it is imperative that it's funding is fully secured and fully protected regardless of what happens or how long the current talks last. The A5 must not become a financial stopgap for the £500 million 'black hole' in Stormont's finances due to the botched RHI scheme.

 "The Stormont House Agreement contains the only commitment for the building of the A5 but that commitment, like the many others in the agreement, has been derailed by the negligent actions of those in Government.

  "Rather than focusing on major transformative infrastructure plans, the Executive has been funding their own pet projects - from Red Sky to NAMA and from RHI to Charter NI. We have no shortage of political scandal but we do have a major shortage of delivery, especially on what has been promised time and time again to the people of West Tyrone. The delay in building the A5 has become sickening and is continuing to cost lives.

"The Secretary of State has given a commitment that the A5 will remain a priority and I fully welcome that announcement, however, words are no longer enough, we want action and work to begin now.

 "In moving forward to an election, and indeed post-election, it remains imperative that the A5 project is prioritised, that its funding is fully secured and fully protected. Too many people have unjustifiably lost their lives on what is fast becoming the most treacherous and dangerous road on this island."

West Tyrone's sitting MP., Pat Doherty, said Sinn Féin had been the main drivers of the campaign for the A5 from the start.

"We launched it at our party's national campaign for the project back in Kelly's Inn in Garvaghey in 2006 and put it to the top of the agenda of the St Andrew's Agreement Talks of the same year at which we secured an agreement from the Irish government that it would co-fund the project.

"Since then we have had the major setbacks of the Irish government rolling back on its original funding commitment, the judicial review and the extinguishing orders on the go-ahead announcement and then a UUP DRD Minister who dragged his heals on progressing the project

"When our party through Minister Chris Hazzard took up the Department of Infrastructure brief again last year, the A5 went once again to the top of the priority list and before leaving office he ensured that the necessary steps were put in place within his department to ensure that the £229m secured in the Fresh Start Agreement for the Derry-Strabane stretch of the A5 was fully ring-fenced to enable work to start on this stretch before the end of this year.

“We still continued to lobby the Transport Minister and the Irish government to re-instate the full financial commitment it made at St Andrew's. It re-instated some of the money as part of the Fresh Start Agreement (£75m) and we are still continuing to press for its to re-instate its full commitment," he said

Mr Doherty added that Sinn Féin saw the A5 as a key strategic project in addressing infrastructure imbalance in this region of Ireland and it was and would continue to of top priority for our party until the entire route is developed.

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