‘Border bottleneck is already holding back five major investments before we even consider Brexit’

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A Derry City and Strabane District Council funding manager has warned severe traffic congestion on just one border artery is already holding back up to five major investments and that any hardening of the border post-Brexit will only damage the local economy.

Richard Osterhus issued the warning to members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee who were in Derry last week as part of their inquiry into the ‘Future of the Land Border with the Republic of Ireland’.

Mr. Osterhus warned that major arteries, including the A5 and the A2 economic corridor, which includes the Buncrana Road, are already under pressure.

He told the committee that in 2015 there were 326,000 traffic movements across three crossings - Muff to Culmore, Derry to Bridgend and Strabane to Lifford - every week, or 14,000 on average per day.

He said: “I give you the example of Strabane Lifford. The A5 passes directly through the top of Strabane town. “There is a major intersection there, which is only 800 metres from the border. We are currently looking at that.

“Any minor incident, which causes a slow of traffic, within, say, two minutes, you would have a mile to two-mile tailback very, very quickly, the A5 being the main arterial route from Derry into the south-west, Dublin and beyond.

“Another example is the Bridgend to Derry crossing. That directly links to what we refer to as the A2 economic corridor.

“There are major operational sites along that entire corridor. Seagate have their major plant there; there are several industrial estates and other commercial units along there. That is only 1.5 miles from the border and the road infrastructure at this time is already under severe pressure at peak times.

“It is currently holding back four to five investment propositions, which would be helping to create and sustain jobs, along that route, and that is without any other implications from what infrastructure might be needed to cope with any form of hard border being considered.”

Gavin Killeen, Chief Executive of Nuprint Technologies and Toni Forrester, Chief Executive of Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce, in a later briefing to the committee, tried to give an idea of how fluid a cross border workforce the North West has.

“If you travel to any significant business in this city, the Seagates and any of the large employers, the hospital, the university, the colleges, 40 per cent of the car parks on either side have people travelled from the other side of the border, particularly in those higher skilled areas, the teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, those sorts of areas,” said Mr. Killeen.

“You can see that the car parks are at least, if not 50/50, certainly 60/40 on either side,” he added.

Ms. Forrester added: “I am a cross-border worker myself. I live here in Derry and travel to Donegal to work every day, and again I agree with Gavin.

“It is hard to put a figure on it but the amount of Northern registrations that are travelling every day is fairly significant and increasing. We have a company called Pramerica, as Mike alluded to earlier, with 1,300 people employed.

“A significant amount of those are Northern Ireland residents. It is hard to put our finger on the figures.”