A HIGH Court judge intends to quash a decision to press ahead with a new £330 million dual carriageway project, he revealed on Tuesday.
Mr Justice Stephens confirmed he is minded to make the order over a failure to carry out an appropriate assessment of the impact of the A5 scheme on special areas of conservation around two rivers.
But the Department for Regional Development is to be given another chance to argue that the breach should not result in Roads Minister Danny Kennedy’s decision being quashed.
All other grounds of challenge advanced by a campaign group seeking to block the two stretches between Londonderry and Aughnacloy were rejected.
Work on the 85km of dual carriageway has been put on hold due to the legal intervention.
Eighteen farmers, businessmen and landowners joined together under the Alternative A5 Alliance grouping in a legal challenge to the project announced in July last year.
The scheme, the largest of its kind ever in Northern Ireland, forms part of a proposed key cross-border business route linking Dublin and the north west.
Uncertainty now surrounds the overall project after the Irish government downgraded funding due to its tough economic circumstances.
Judicial review proceedings centred on the decision to press ahead with two sections of the route, for which the Stormont Executive has approved £280m.
Lawyers for the Alliance claimed it has now become a different project, and that no proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been carried out.
In a 67-page judgment, Mr Justice Stephens dismissed this claim, along with others alleging apparent bias of the inspectors at the public inquiry and a breach of the group’s property rights.
However, he found there had been a failure to carry out an appropriate assessment of the Rivers Foyle and Finn Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive.
The judge said Loughs Agency evidence to the public inquiry raised doubts over the effectiveness of remedial measures proposed by the Department.
“The risk of likely significant effects on the integrity of the Special Areas of Conservation cannot be excluded on the basis of objective information,” he said.
“An appropriate assessment should have been but was not carried out under the Habitats Directive.”
Mr Justice Stephens confirmed: “On that ground the decision should be quashed.”
However, he said he would allow the Department the opportunity to make further submissions on whether the breach should lead to such an outcome.
Lawyers on both sides will return to court next week for a final resolution to the case.
Costs of bringing the challenge will also be settled at that stage.