Work on Londonderry A6 delayed despite Appeal Court victory

Lough Beg swans are at the heart of the A6 battle

The ornithologist attempting to prevent a Londonderry road upgrade he claims will damage “irreplaceable wetlands” could take his case to the European Court of Justice.

Speaking on Tuesday after Court of Appeal judges rejected his claim – that a proper impact assessment had not been carried out – Chris Murphy said his challenge to the A6 dualling project between Toome and Castledawson would be heard in Brussels if necessary.

Ornithologist Chris Murphy arrives at the High Court in Belfast where judgement was due on his new bid to stop the A6 dual carriageway. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com

Despite the court victory, the Department for Infrastructure has said it will not now begin work on that stretch of road until March next year.

The environmental campaigner represented himself in court as he had at earlier hearings.

Mr Murphy said he remained convinced the area, made famous by poet Seamus Heaney, was not being afforded the level of protection required in line with the EU’s Habitats Directive.

“I may have lost today but I remain 100% convinced that the law is firmly on the side of these incredible wetlands, which are an irreplaceable habitat whose value to man and nature has not been given proper consideration,” he said.

“It is simply outrageous to allow this construction to go on and cause irreversible harm to a Special Protection Area when many alternative routes exist. The government is required in law to give these areas the strictest protection. I believe it has failed to honour its commitments to the European Union under the Habitats Directive and will now appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Mr Murphy also called for work on the A6 project to be suspended until all legal options have been exhausted.

“Given the huge public importance in this case, I shall appeal the correctness of today’s decision and request that the authorities continue to suspend all work on the contested 2.5 mile section of road until the appeal process has run its course, if necessary taking it to the European Court of Justice in Brussels,” he said.

Mr Murphy added: “I wish to thank the many people from the Lough Beg area, Northern Ireland and around the world who have generously supported my right to stop this desecrating road.

“We have a shared vision to develop the economy of Mid-Ulster through businesses that rely on the sustainable development of the unique cultural and natural heritage of Lough Beg. All we are asking for is that this jewel of a wetland is protected and a less damaging alternative route found.”

Following Monday’s ruling, a Department for Infrastructure spokeswoman said: “The department welcomes today’s Judicial Review Appeal Judgement upholding the original judgement in favour of the department.

“Both judgements confirm the department’s robust economic, engineering and environmental assessment procedures.”

She described the A6 scheme as “fundamental in enhancing connectivity, improving journey times and unlocking the economic potential of the whole region,” and added: “Local communities will also see economic and social benefits resulting in employment opportunities from a scheme of this size.

“The department’s decision making process has been subject to the rigour of independent public inquiries, a High Court judgement and today an Appeal court ruling. This independent scrutiny has ultimately affirmed that the department has applied the relevant environmental legislation appropriately and that it has acted in manner that is both lawful and rational.”

The spokeswoman went on to say: “Although there is no legal impediment to the department moving forward with the main construction of the Toome Bypass to Moyola Bridge (Castledawson) section of the scheme; as a result of our environmental commitments, no major earthworks or drainage works will take place between Toome Bypass and Deerpark Road until mid-March 2018. Major construction works will be advanced between Moyola Bridge to Deerpark road.”

Sinn Féin MLA Ian Milne described the road upgrade as necessary to improve journey times.

“The A6 scheme is fundamental in enhancing connectivity, improving journey times and unlocking the economic potential of the whole region.

“Local communities will also see economic and social benefits resulting in employment opportunities from a scheme of this size,” he said.

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