Stormont’s commitment to two major road schemes in Northern Ireland has been reaffirmed.
The minister in charge of the new Infrastructure department, Chris Hazzard, said that he was committed to delivering the projects to upgrade the A5 and A6 routes to high quality dual carriageway.
Both roads lead to Londonderry, one from the western end of the M22 on the Belfast route, and the other from the border at Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone.
Mr Hazzard was speaking at a Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) and SSE Airtricity ‘Minister on the Move’ event at Slieve Kirk Wind Park in Londonderry on Wednesday.
More than 70 businesses from the Northwest attended the event.
Mr Hazzard said: “The sustainability and growth of our economy means having in place infrastructure that meets the needs of our people and our economy. Put simply the economy here in the North, and indeed across the whole island cannot grow if the infrastructure is not in place to support it.
“Improving transport connections is vital. The Executive has already made clear that flagship projects including the A5 and A6 are key to building connectivity and unlocking economic potential.
“Today I want to assure you that I am committed to deliver on these hugely significant projects that will finally address the historical infrastructure deficit west of the Bann.”
Mr Hazzard said that as the main route between Northern Ireland’s two biggest cities, Londonderry and Belfast, the A6 “is a vital link in making the north an attractive place for those choosing to live, visit, work or invest”.
He said: “I am determined to drive this project forward and complete the scheme to Drumahoe in this mandate, so we can maximise our offering and develop the economic potential across the region.”
Speaking about the A5 upgrade, he said: “Construction of the first phase of the A5 Western Transport Corridor, from Newbuildings to north of Strabane, is due to begin in 2017 subject to the successful completion of the statutory procedures. However, I am currently looking at how funding could be increased to expedite delivery of the A5 scheme.”
The Chamber of Commerce welcomed the commitment to improving the A5 and A6.
Ann McGregor, its chief executive, said that the chamber’s members “have long called for improvements in the strategic road network”.
She added: “Businesses rely on transport networks to move goods and people; on energy infrastructure to keep production lines and technology running; on telecoms to deliver services, and to connect with customers and suppliers. Failure to invest in capacity and maintenance is hampering business growth and costing jobs.
“A world-class economy needs world-class infrastructure to support economic growth, and businesses need certainty that crucial improvements will be delivered.”
Ms McGregor also congratulated the hosts, SSE Renewables, “on the development of Northern Ireland’s first grouped wind farm”.