Upgrade to 'dangerous' Derry to Dublin A5 road could start in 2024

Minister for Infrastructure, John O’Dowd has informed members of Derry City and Strabane Council that the A5 scheme could commence construction in early 2024.

However, this would depend on the findings of the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) and any subsequent legal challenges.

He also warned that every time there is a legal action taken against the scheme ‘you can add a year to 18 months to the clock for the completion or the start of the A5’.

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During his verbal update to the special council meeting, Minister O’Dowd said: “Since 2011 there have been 32 lives lost on the A5 and there have been five lives lost in recent months. Each of those lives is a story in itself, it is not a statistic. It is a lost loved one and family homes are missing loved ones as a result of accidents on the A5.

The A5 Derry to Aughnacloy Road upgrade could start in 2024. The Irish government has also confirmed money is still in place for the Dublin to Aughnacloy upgrade project. (File picture)

“While all roads carry certain dangers it has become quite clear the A5 has become a road which is presenting danger to its users because of the volume on the type of road it is and it is simply not fit for purpose and hence why I’m so keen to progress the A5.”

Mr O’Dowd explained that in September 2020 the Department received an interim report from the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) on its findings from the public inquiry held in February and March 2020 which contained two key recommendations in the need for further assistance on flood risk and scheme alternatives.

The PAC adjourned the public inquiry to allow these recommendations to be incorporated into a new addendum to the environmental statement and be made available for further public consultation.

The new environmental statement and associated documents were published on March 16 this year, commencing a consultation process which reached conclusion on May 16.

Infrastructure Minister John O'Dowd.

Urging those in favour of the scheme to be more vociferous, the Minster added: “It’s worth noting that there were around 200 responses to that consultation. The majority of those were from individuals and groups that were opposed to the A5 and that is not a true reflection of the public support and elected representatives support that there is for the new A5.

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“If there is further consultation in relation to this project required at different phases then I would encourage everyone who supports the A5 to make their voices heard, particularly institutions such as local councils in particular.”

Continuing he said: “We have since presented our addendum to the PAC, I had hoped the PAC would meet pre-Christmas to move this process along but unfortunately they are not in a position to meet pre-Christmas.

“They will hopefully meet in early spring and if there is a positive return in relation to their decisions then I would hope that we could commence construction on the A5 early 2024 with completion of the scheme in early 2028.

The A5 Derry to Aughnacloy Road.
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“I caveat those comments with this – some of the major delays have been a result of legal actions. Every time there is a legal action taken against the A5 you can add a year to 18 months to the clock for the completion or the start of the A5.”

Councillors from all parties were united in their support for the A5 scheme with some voicing their concerns about the budget available for the project and further delays caused by the legal challenges.

SDLP councillor Steven Edwards described the project as ‘the single most important road upgrade on this island.’

He added: “The level of deaths on the current A5 is staggering. Since the scheme was first announced in 2006 there have been 50 deaths on the road which is absolutely shocking.

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“I have received information from the Department that says the A5 upgrade would prevent over 2,000 collisions, save 19 lives and save over 2,700 injuries over a 60-year period, so I think the case for upgrading it is definitely there.

Sinn Féin councillor Michael Boyle spoke of the speculation about whether this scheme will happen at all calling the A5 ‘one of the most treacherous roads in the island of Ireland’.

“We need a positive campaign and the public support for the scheme to go ahead outweighs the dissenting voices so I think we all need to be on board,” she said, asking: “How reassured are we that the resources are there given the amount of money already spent on the A5 and this scheme?”

Minister O’Dowd responded: “Given that it is an Executive flagship project, there is a responsibility on the incoming Executive to ensure there is proper finance in place to deliver this project.

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“Future Executive Ministers, or whoever makes up the next Executive, there is already an agreement made that this project should go ahead so it has to be factored into future budgets.

“I have had engagements with Minister Ryan around the financing which was promised from the South and I’m told that is still available.”

Alliance councillor Philip McKinney and Independent councillor Paul Gallagher questioned the Minister about his ability to halt the legal challenges should the PAC findings be positive.

He explained: “I can’t stop them and I have no legal authority to say, ‘no, that legal challenge is going no further’.”

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Referring to concerns raised by some councillors about the price farmers receive for their land which is required for the upgrade, the Infrastructure Minister said: “There is a process for setting the price through the Land and Property Service.

“I have no wish to hoodwink or do over any farmer. Farmers, quite rightly and understandably, want properly compensated for their land.”

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter