A city being left in the slow lane

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People ask the Chamber of Commerce if they want a better road to Belfast or Dublin - and the answer is obvious, writes Chamber chief executive Sinead McLaughlin

Progress can be slow. We all know and accept that. But sometimes progress is unacceptably slow in Northern Ireland.

Our roads system serving the North West is the obvious example of very slow progress. The 70 mile journey to Belfast on the A6 can take two hours. Alternatively, the journey by road to Dublin on the A5 may take four hours.

Way back in 1964, a motorway was planned that would connect Derry with Belfast. That plan has spent most of its life in a drawer. More recently, the direct rule Secretary of State Peter Hain launched a proposal to upgrade the A6 to decent standard in 2005. That proposal remains in the development stage. Development is not enough – we need implementation.

We hoped that at least the A5 road to Dublin would provide a fast connection to one of our most important destinations. ut because of mistakes by the Department for Regional Development, that, too, has hit a road block.

Despite attempts by some to ask whether we in the Chamber want a better road to Belfast or to Dublin, the answer is obvious. We want both. No one asks residents and businesses in Belfast which single road connection they want – they demand good connections with all the places with which they have strong social and commercial connections. So do we.

Our businesses trade with Belfast, but they also trade with Dublin – and places between Derry and each of the two capital cities. Without efficient transport links, our businesses are disadvantaged and trade becomes inefficient. That means that we cannot generate the jobs or the wealth that we need to generate.

And building the roads themselves will, of course, create work for the very hard-pressed construction industry.

So we demand – and demand is a reasonable word to use here – faster progress with the road network that is supposed to be serving the North West. We are calling for the Executive, ministers, MLAs and local MPs to do more in ensuring our road network becomes fit for purpose, because at present it certainly is not.

We now know that the A5 cannot go ahead for at least the next year and probably not for at least two years. The money allocated for the A5 should now in the short term be reallocated to the A6 road to Belfast. We want a commitment to that from the Executive and the Assembly.

But that must not be at the expense of the road to Dublin. We also want a commitment from the Executive and the Assembly that the money at presently allocated to the A5 upgrade will be returned to that project when the planning processes allow the road to be built.

At present Derry’s economy is on the slow track. Better roads would help us accelerate that economy and the job creation that would bring.