AT least two sections of the controversial dual-carriageway to replace the A5 in west Tyrone and Fermanagh will be built, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy yesterday said.
The Ulster Unionist minister made the announcement after the publication of a public inquiry — which itself cost more than £1.2 million — into the vast scheme to which more than 2,000 people have formally objected.
The two stretches to be built now will be from Newbuildings in Londonderry to north of Strabane and from the south of Omagh to Ballygawley, with the third stretch in between those two lengths of dual carriageway postponed indefinitely.
However, despite work on the scheme expected to begin in the autumn and last for about two-and-a-half years, campaigners against the road last night vowed to maintain their fight against the project.
Yesterday’s report from the public inquiry revealed an extraordinary coalition of objectors: three church congregations, a Church of Ireland diocese, the Ulster Farmers’ Union, environmentalists, anglers, local traders, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, an Orange lodge and hundreds of others.
Many of the objectors argued that current traffic levels on the existing A5 are short of those which would justify a dual-carriageway which will be the single biggest infrastructure project in the history of Northern Ireland.
However, the route has been supported by nationalist politicians, the DUP and some road safety campaigners who point out that motorists on dual carriageways and motorways are safer than on any other type of road because the road design eliminates both head-on collisions and slow-moving vehicles such as tractors.
And nationalist proponents of the scheme have said that it will help to connect the west of the Province to the rest of the island of Ireland, boosting trade.
The new road will mean the use of 2,900 acres of land, 1,700 acres of which are “best agricultural land”.
Yesterday Mr Kennedy said that the A5 Western Transport Corridor route had been supported by the inspectors subject to some changes, which include the retention of the A4/A5 Tullyvar Road roundabout at Ballygawley, and said that he agreed with their recommendation.
The UUP minister said: “I concur with the main recommendations contained within the inspectors’ report and I am satisfied that the proposed scheme will help to improve road safety and provide a more appropriate standard of road on this key strategic route.
“There are almost 1,400 junctions and accesses onto the existing A5 which contribute to the potential for accidents along this route.
“The collision history is a factor which cannot be ignored and the A5 upgrade will help to reduce the number of collisions by providing improved cross sections, forward visibility and alignment as well as separating strategic and local traffic.”
Mr Kennedy said that he was “well aware” of the strong local opposition to “some elements of the scheme” but insisted that “every effort has been made to reduce the impact of the road scheme on property and landowners”.
He said that those affected would receive compensation “in accordance with a series of Acts of Parliament, case law and established practice”.
One objector, Ciaran McClean, said that limited access to the new dual carriageway would mean that the old road would continue to be used – meaning that two roads would have to be maintained.
He said that the road was “the result of political horse-trading between north and south”.
Another group of objectors, Fleming McFarland, Frances McFarland and Joy Krammer, described it as “primarily a politically induced project, influenced by the contribution promised by the Irish government”.
Last night Malcolm Lake of the Alternative A5 Alliance said that the campaign against the road would continue.
“We are consulting with our legal advisors as to the best way to proceed. We haven’t gone away – and have no intention of going away,” he said.
Mr Lake queried the timing of the announcement “when many people are away on holiday” and said that there was a “serious discrepancy” in the various announcements from the Executive about the A5’s economic benefit.
“When Finance Minister Sammy Wilson announced funding for the project, he spoke of 2,000 jobs,” he said. “Subsequently, a Freedom of Information Request revealed there was absolutely no basis for this figure. Minister Kennedy’s statement spoke of ‘up to 800 jobs’.
“That is a 60 per cent fall in the number of jobs — before a sod has been turned.”
The public inquiry was announced last February by the then Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy.
Last November the Irish government – which was to have provided £400 million towards the total cost of £850 for the 55-mile scheme – withdrew its funding.
The Republic is now offering to pay about £50 million of the total cost.
The Department of Regional Development’s own figures show that the scheme will have “substantial impact” on 52 farm holdings, a “moderate impact” on 67 farms, and “slight impact” on 163 farms.
West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty said: “Sinn Fein has been to the forefront of the campaign for the A5 dual carriageway so today represents a welcome milestone in these efforts.”
SDLP West Tyrone MLA Joe Byrne said that “credit must also go to the Roads Minister Danny Kennedy for remaining calm and steadfast in his commitment to this road upgrade”.
However, environmentalists said that Mr Kennedy was building a “road to nowhere” which would disrupt or destroy hundreds of businesses, farms, homes, protected habitats, built heritage, and archaeology.
Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director James Orr said: “By not exploring alternatives such as improved rail links, access to a modern bus service, better walking and cycling, straightening dangerous bends, and filling in the potholes, we will be left with a hugely expensive metaphor for the lack of direction or vision of the big four political parties.”