Work to upgrade one of the “worst bottlenecks” in Northern Ireland’s road network faces delays lasting months after an environmentalist lodged a court appeal.
Chris Murphy, an ornithologist from Co Down, had already lost a court case to contest the route of the A6 dual carriageway at Toomebridge, close to the landscape made famous by poet Seamus Heaney.
In a statement announcing his appeal against the High Court ruling on Tuesday, Mr Murphy said he “cannot support” the “destruction of internationally important wetlands and an area of enormous cultural heritage”.
While the Department of Infrastructure could not provide an estimated time frame for any delays due to the appeal, roads expert Wesley Johnston told the News Letter the delays would last months – and even years if the appeal succeeds.
Seamus Leheny of the Freight Transport Association said the economy of Northern Ireland is being damaged every day the upgrade is delayed.
He described the A6 as “one of the worst bottlenecks in the country” and described how manufacturing industry is being hamstrung by the cost of moving goods around Northern Ireland.
He said the appeal was “ultimately costing the taxpayers money and holding up the courts as well, all because of one litigant”.
He added: “Nobody else has an issue with this. Our fear is that another protracted legal battle is only going to kick the scheme further down the road and all it is going to achieve is delaying the inevitable of the scheme progressing.”
Mr Leheny explained how the delays could hurt the economy, saying: “It’s having an adverse impact on people moving goods up to and from Mid-Ulster and up around the North West.”
He continued: “We have quarterly costs for operating vehicles and for a 44-ton vehicle – that’s your typical articulated lorry and big trailer – the operating costs for one of those is £1 per minute. For every minute it is sitting between Toomebridge and Moneynick it’s costing money and hurting the economy.
“This scheme, when it is built, it’s not only going to save commuters time but it will save money for companies importing and exporting goods. It will save the hauliers money as well.”
The Department of Infrastructure, meanwhile, said the position made clear last week, that work will go ahead on sections of the proposed route not subject to legal proceedings, still stands.
The department also pledged to “work to bring any future legal proceedings regarding this section of the route to a conclusion as soon as possible”.
Mr Johnston said: “If Transport NI win this latest challenge then work could still get under way before the end of 2017, but it will have added several more months to the timescale of this long-awaited road.
“Should TransportNI lose – though there is no reason to think they will – then the delay could be much longer, of the order of two or three years if assessments and public inquiries have to be redone.”
The contested section of the road passes through the Lough Beg wetlands, which is home to hundreds of migratory Whooper Swans for six months of the year.
Chris Murphy said: “This should be an area to conserve and promote, not bulldoze and destroy.”