A5: Stormont decision on progression of road project could be ‘months away’

Infrastructure Minister John O'Dowd speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday
Infrastructure Minister John O'Dowd speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday -Credit:NI Assembly TV

A Department for Infrastructure decision on how to progress with the much-delayed A5 road scheme could be months away, Minister John O’Dowd has said.

A report was provided to the Stormont department by the Planning Appeals Commission following a third public inquiry into the major road project six months ago.

There had been hope that the new year and the restoration of Stormont would see the publication of the PAC report and recommendations from DfI on how to proceed.

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50 people have died on the current A5 road since the Executive first agreed to build the new road in 2007, as a series of legal challenges have scuppered its progress.

Projected costs for the new road, which would see dual carriageway introduced from Derry to Aughnacloy, have spiralled in the years since it was first agreed by the NI Executive in 2007.

Infrastructure Minister O’Dowd told the Assembly on Tuesday the report and his Department’s recommendations would be published in the ‘coming months’.

“My officials are working at pace on detailed consideration of the recommendations, and I hope to make an announcement on the project in the coming months,” the Minister said in a response to a question from West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan.

“I share the Member's condolences to the family of the latest victim on the A5. My responsibility in the matter bears heavily on me, I assure the Member.

“The report, as I have said many times, is complex and detailed. Every line of that report will be scrutinised against my decision and my recommendation.

“I want to be assured beyond reasonable doubt that my officials and I, along with legal advice, have gone through it line by line and that I am living up to my statutory obligations before making any further announcement.

“The worst thing that we can do for those who have lost their life on the A5, their families and the communities that use it is make an announcement that is then overturned in the courts. I know that it is taking time and is frustrating — I understand that — but I want to get this one right.”

O’Dowd also said that he expects further legal challenges from opponents of the road project and that he wants to have a ‘robust defence’ in place to guard against them.

The Irish government has confirmed a revised funding figure of €600m towards the A5 road project, but more than £1billion will need to be found to finance the rest of the redevelopment.

A police cordon on the A5 outside Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone
A police cordon on the A5 outside Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone -Credit:Claudia Savage/PA Wire

SDLP MLA McCrossan said of the Minister’s answer that the public is ‘no clearer’ as to when the findings of the PAC report will be published.

“The findings of the Planning Appeals Commission into the A5 redevelopment have been with the department for six months now and the Minister has been in a post for a number of months, still we are no clearer on when this will be published and we can get on with building this road,” he said.

“The Minister told me today that it could be months more before the findings are published and that will cause concern among everyone who wants to see work begin before the end of this year.

“There can be no further delay and we don’t have any time to lose, this is about keeping everyone who travels on the A5 road safe.”

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