A5 ruling: “They should not be left in any doubt about what may or may not occur…”

The Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development have 7 days to appeal the Belfast High Court ruling issued today quashing the decision to go ahead with the controversial A5 £330m dual carriageway project.  As the BBC reports

Following the verdict, lawyers for the department sought to have the court order put on hold.

They wanted time to meet a requirement to carry out an appropriate assessment required under the directive.

But Mr Justice Stephens refused, citing the potential for a public inquiry and potential scope for legal confusion.

“The appropriate course in the exercise of my discretion is for the orders to be quashed,” he confirmed.

However, acknowledging the potential for an appeal of his decision in the case, the judge agreed to a more limited delay.

“The applicants are entitled to plan their own businesses and their own lives,” he said.

“They should not be left in any doubt about what may or may not occur in circumstances such as these where the department has acted unlawfully in breach of a habitats directive.

“I’m prepared to grant a stay until 12 noon on April 15 2013.”

In his response, the NI Regional Development Minister, the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, said

“Today’s ruling is disappointing but my key priority now is to consider the merits of appealing and to find a resolution to this situation as quickly as possible.

“I also intend to discuss this with Executive colleagues on Thursday.”

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  • I guess I haven’t been following this story closely but it seems strange to me that a Judge can quash a public policy decision completely rather than ruling that proper procedures haven’t been followed and delaying the decision until they are. Or is he giving Government 7 days to make such an announcement.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Quite unbelievable , congratulations to the local group who have took on a system heavily stacked against them. Time to go back to drawing board and a few reasonable plans.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Joe, the 7 days is purely to give chance to appeal not comply.

  • DR,

    I always the new road was excessive that that only a few improvements were needed. Like the extreme bend at Bready and bypassing Sion Mills from my own local experience.

  • Obelisk

    “Quite unbelievable , congratulations to the local group who have took on a system heavily stacked against them. Time to go back to drawing board and a few reasonable plans.”

    Oh it’s not unbelievable. The West actually get any sort of infrastructure? We can’t have that, perish the thought. I’m sure if the project fails the money will be re-directed to that most deserving of deprived areas, Belfast.

    I guess the tailbacks this group generate as they drive their tractors at 10 miles per hour down the current rickety A5 won’t be consigned to the past quite yet. I’m sure their farms need protecting. How else can they claim from the EU to sustain their livelihoods?

    But on the bright side, the wonderful habitats will now be preserved for blow-ins from outside the area to enjoy on the few occasions they deign to visit us whilst the majority of the inhabitants of the economic crater that is the West get to struggle to attract any kind of investment to provide jobs for locals.

    But sure, the dual carriageway weren’t needed. There is data showing the traffic isn’t at the requisite level. Because the northwest is an economic crater, a major contributing factor of which is our lack of viable infrastructure. Chicken and egg stuff.

  • Zig70

    The A5 makes sense. You just need to look at the motorways in the south and see the economic avenues it opens up. It uses to take less time to get to Boston than Belfast from Limerick. For a prosperous country we need to use the real estate not choke it off.

  • OneNI

    So NI Executive flagship capital expenditure project runs into sand anyone going to resign?

  • Barry the Blender

    The fact that the roads minister is even pushing this policy shows just how weak and feeble he is. The UUP is there to obey what the DUP and Sinn Fein tell it, even when it’s absolute cobblers…like the A5.

    I’m a westofthebanner too, so don’t anyone for a second give me all this rubbish about denying the area an infrastructure.

    Priorities for the west are:
    A6 dual: Randalstown to Magherafelt first and foremost, but the whole corridor gives Derry a direct route to Dublin.

    A5: Omagh to Ballygally: Create a long western corner, linking Omagh to Belfast is suffice; Newton stewart doesn’t also need a direct link.

    Cookstown bypass- try driving through that town from about 4pm and tell me that an unused road near castlederg ranks more highly.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Barry, can I add Dungannon badly needs an A29 by pass, also there is more traffic going west on the A4 through Augher Clogher and Fivemiletown, all of whom need by passed. The main delays on the A5 are poorly planned through passes in Omagh & Strabane, improve these and most of the journey time savings can be achieved, with the addition of some more passing lanes and junction improvements.

  • Canny See It Sur

    A6 dual: Randalstown to Magherafelt first and foremost, but the whole corridor gives Derry a direct route to Dublin.

    Have you ever driven through Belfast Westlink between M1 & M2 at anything near rush hour?

    Why should people in the north west hope for a “direct” route to Dublin via Belfast anyway???

    This whole decision stinks and it shows that the landowners and lodge members along the route still have a lot more sway in things than the majority of people who would benefit from the route.

  • Drumlins Rock

    how many people actually drive Derry to Dublin? or even Omagh to Monaghan if you want? Traffic levels are less around 5,000 vehicles per day Aughnacloy/Ballygawley, much of that is local traffic, and much more of it either goes west to Enniskillen or or comes from Armagh and Newry, do you need a dual carriageway for 2-3,000 vehicles a day?

    As for your lodge members dig, most of the senior officers locally supported the scheme as either DUP members or even as people who would benefit from it. It was a small very mixed group who took and won the challenge, although it was certainly more “green” in the environmental sense, than Orange.

  • Drumlins Rock

    PS, hopefully the money saved from this white elephant can be put towards the Yorkgate upgrade to fix that M1 & M2 junction currently being planned.

  • Canny See It Sur

    Yes thats right, offer cash to the west and then when planning permission is refused just use the money “Backin’ Belfast”.

    The whole Stormont love in between Sinn Fein and DUP is so belfast centric it’s unreal.

  • Canny See It Sur

    I’m not sure where you get your less than 5000 vehicles per day figure but the figures using the A5 between Strabane & Derry are 11400 vehicles per day, between Strabane & Omagh is 14100 vehicles per day, Omagh & Ballygawley is 12000 vehicles per day and Ballygawley to Aughnacloy is 8200 vehicles per day.

    These figures are from 2009 so it would be fair to say they’ve probably gone up since then.

  • Morpheus

    how many people actually drive Derry to Dublin? or even Omagh to Monaghan if you want? Traffic levels are less around 5,000 vehicles per day Aughnacloy/Ballygawley, much of that is local traffic, and much more of it either goes west to Enniskillen or or comes from Armagh and Newry, do you need a dual carriageway for 2-3,000 vehicles a day?

    Where do those figures come from?

    A simple Google search shows the estimated DRD figures for 2015:
    Ballygawley to Aughnacloy –> 8,900 per day
    Ballygawley to Omagh –> 13,200 per day
    Omagh to Strabane –> 16,800 per day
    Strabane to Derry –> 22,200 per day

    By 2030 those figures look like:
    Ballygawley to Aughnacloy –> 11,000 per day
    Ballygawley to Omagh –> 16,300 per day
    Omagh to Strabane –> 21,800 per day
    Strabane to Derry –> 26,600 per day

    What is your cut-off point? At what point do you think this becomes viable?

  • Morpheus

    @Canny See It Sur

    My figures were issued in March 2011

  • Morpheus

    Just another wee snippet

    A6 Toome Bypass = this went ahead when usuage was 22,000 vehicles per day
    http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/roads/a6toomebypass.html

    A31 Magherafelt Bypass = this went ahead when usage was 17,500 vehicles per day
    http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/roads/a31magherafeltbypass.html

  • Morpheus

    One final thing:

    According to the DRD:
    “traffic flow levels and carriageway standards, as contained in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, recommend, that at the year of opening, the Annual Average Daily Traffic flow for a two lane dual carriageway should lie between a minimum of 11,000 and a maximum of 39,000 vehicles per day.”

    Remind me, what are the 2015 projections for
    Ballygawley to Omagh –> ?
    Omagh to Strabane –> ?
    Strabane to Derry –> ?

  • Canny See It Sur

    PS, hopefully the money saved from this white elephant can be put towards the Yorkgate upgrade to fix that M1 & M2 junction currently being planned.

    The junction at Yorkgate isn’t even the worst choke point. Traffic is at a near standstill from Yorkgate throughout the length of the Westlink right past Stockmans Lane. To suggest this would be appropriate as the road between Derry & Dublin is a bit of a joke.

    Thanks for the update on the figures Morpheus – they clearly show that the traffic is there and the need is present for safe road dualling despite the cost to the local farmers along the route.

  • Morpheus

    The need is there alright CSIS, you have to question the motivation here.

  • Drumlins Rock

    The initial surveys had the Aughnacloy Ballgawley section at under 6,000 VPD, this did increase substancially when the A4 upgrades can into action with many driver abandoning the old A28 and B35 in favour of the new longer but faster routes, none of these are Derry / Dublin traffic, but generally east west, the fact remains much more traffic goes west on the A4 than North on the A5, and a high proportion of that traffic is local which will never use the new road.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Am I right in saying that the problems identified are with the Strabane to Derry part? The part I really want to go ahead is the Omagh to Ballygawley road. It can be awful at rush hour, particularly going West as there are only two climbing lanes, both uphill and within roughly 3 miles of Ballygawley. There is no real opportunity to overtake for the next 15 miles. Its a bit better going East, but its not great either.

    Also the idea that Derry to Dublin traffic should go through Belfast is ridiculous. Sure it would only increase traffic through Belfast. The Westlink and the Sprucefield junction can just about manage as they are.

  • I sure hope that this decision by the Judge doesn’t mean that no action will be undertaken to carry out some badly needed improvements. Following an appropriate assessment, surely some parts of the proposed upgrade can be carried out with a look to future incorporation into a new complete route.

  • Morpheus

    @Drumlins Rock

    I have no way of showing what initial estimates were but I would appreciate a link if you have it.

    Regardless, the official DRD estimates are above – the figures speak for themselves.

    As the links above show, upgrades to other roads went ahead with similar or less traffic flow levels so I really don’t see the issue here.

    The demand has been proven and the rules are clear about the minimum criteria for a duel carriageway.

    This would have been the biggest-ever road development in Northern Ireland creating jobs when they were most needed PLUS it was part-funded by £300 million of Irish government money.

    This was a no-brainer and serious questions have to be asked about the motives of stopping it

  • Obelisk

    “I sure hope that this decision by the Judge doesn’t mean that no action will be undertaken to carry out some badly needed improvements. Following an appropriate assessment, surely some parts of the proposed upgrade can be carried out with a look to future incorporation into a new complete route.”

    The badly needed improvement is the dual carriageway the majority of people in the region have been hoping for now for quite some time. Anything else will be rightly seen as a weak cast off that will do nothing to help the people of the West who aren’t Farmers.

  • Obelisk,

    I’m in favour of improved roads as much as anyone. I may be the only one here who remembers the nightmarish drive between Derry and Dungiven up to the later 60s when you were never convinced that the bus would make it around the next corner or go tumbling over the edge but don’t discount the importance also of prime agricultural land. Need a compromise.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Morphesu, hoked out the documents but in paper version so can’t link sorry, got my figure from a diagram showing a one day survery that came in just under the 6,000, but the main figure they quote is 6,850 VPD mon-thurs in May 2008. It probably has increased with much of the A28 traffic now on it too.

    As for the original question, they estimate only 500 VPD will go the full length of the road, never mind start or end in Dublin! with 2,200 from Lifford bridge.

    On thier own estimates when it was to open in 2015 the predicted traffic on the Aughnacloy Ballygawley section was to be 5,400, less than half the reccomended level, and I think even that is a generous estimate. Using the same “recession proof” estimates has the Ballgawley omagh section at 12,550, just about passable, if you accept the figure, although this presume 89%, yes 89% !!! will use the new road, no way was this section going to hit the 11,000 VPD on opening.

  • Drumlins Rock

    your right Joe, a compromise would be great instead of a back room political stunt. Oh and Morphesu, the £300 million from the south is gone.

  • Obelisk

    “I’m in favour of improved roads as much as anyone. I may be the only one here who remembers the nightmarish drive between Derry and Dungiven up to the later 60s when you were never convinced that the bus would make it around the next corner or go tumbling over the edge but don’t discount the importance also of prime agricultural land. Need a compromise.”

    Biggest local news this week is the closure of Linton and Robinsons with the loss of thirty odd jobs. Strabane fills up with cheap money shops and other tat and every few months another store shuts down.

    For a few years the lifeline of the A5 dual carriageway has been there, promising that maybe this time it would be different, that people in this area would finally get some investment, jobs and opportunities beyond the youth of the town working shifts at the local ASDA, those lucky to get a job.

    Instead we’ve had to listen to the antics of the Alternative A5 Alliance, very much a fringe group as they have tried every option to prevent the one major investment our area has gained in decades. And it sadly looks like they’ve succeded.

    So is this compromise? My area condemned to eternal depression at the behest of an industry that only survives because it literally milks the EU CAP? How long would these farmers survive on their own if it wasn’t for that foul policy.

    Do you at least appreciate how much this fills with incandescent anger that we are in the process of again being cheated and my local area sinks even lower? Or that each time this project is apparently on it’s last legs I see demands for the money to be redistributed towards Belfast.

    I wonder what Sinn Fein and the SDLP are now doing behind the scenes over this issue and they better be doing something. The West of the province are their electoral heartlands and if they can’t deliver us any tangible improvements maybe that electoral apathy will get worse.

  • Obelisk,

    You might not know it but I’m a Strabane boy myself. The town more or less died when it was cut off from its Donegal hinterland. The last hope was the shirt industry until it went Far East.

  • Los Lobos

    This may clarify things for anyone interested in the legalities of the situation. PRESS RELEASE 1

    The many supporters of the Alternative A5 Alliance welcome Mr Justice Stephens’s ruling (albeit with a seven day stay) to quash the DRD Minister’s decision to build a new dual carriageway running parallel with the present A5 and thereby providing the predominantly rural area with the luxury of six lanes of traffic from Newbuildings to Ballygawley. Thankfully, the decision based on a breach of the Habitats Directive and on the need to save the protected species including salmon in the Foyle and Finn Special Areas of Conservation, will also save 3000 acres of productive farmland, many businesses and permanent jobs, as well as sparing many householders the devastation that this unnecessary new dual carriageway would have caused.

    The breach of the Habitats Directive affected a major part of the scheme and could not be ignored. Mr Justice Stephens has therefore refused to grant DRD its request for a stay so that it could belatedly undertake an assessment, even though the law requires such an assessment be carried out before the decision to proceed with the road is taken. He has allowed a limited 7 day stay in relation to any appeal to the Court of Appeal.

    Quashing the decision means that the vested lands will be returned to their former owners, who now face the challenge of undoing all the damage caused by six months of preliminary works by Roads Service’s contractors. It means that last December’s undertaking to the Court to pay compensation for such damage must now be honoured and paid in full.

    The AA5A maintains that this road, as conceived, was never truly in the public interest. It was promoted by politicians whose ambitions, aspirations and political compromises it served. Moreover, by pre-determining that the A5 had to be replaced by a dual carriageway, the politicians removed all discussions on the cost effectiveness and environmental impact of other alternative upgrades to the A5. This effectively neutered the Public Inquiry and left it with little to determine other than the exact route of the proposed new road. Public participation was effectively stifled.

    We also maintain that the process contained many other serious and fatal flaws such as the low traffic figures for the route, the many inadequacies of the Agricultural Impact Assessments, the failure to assess the negative economic impacts upon the local community and the inappropriateness of conducting a Human Rights Impact Assessment long before the Public Inquiry even took place. Moreover, as there was no habitats assessment, then the Environmental Statement cannot be fit for purpose either.

    The Court upheld our argument that the specification that the new road had to be a dual carriageway should have been subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment – another breach of European Environmental legal requirements. The Judge ruled this complaint out of time as we should have challenged the government on this point before the Public Inquiry took place, though he acknowledges that there we ‘may have faced difficulties’. In view of our limited funds such an expectation of a group of ordinary people seems high indeed. It is surely for the Government to comply with its obligations and, with constant access to legal advice at public expense, it should have known what these requirements were. Furthermore, if a Strategic Environmental Assessment was required, then, regardless of time limits for a challenge, the Minister should not have given the scheme the go head in its absence.

    This was a road scheme that would have done far more harm than good but it was left to ordinary citizens to fight a High Court battle to prove that. When in November 2011 the RoI reneged on its commitment to pay half the cost of this unnecessary new road, the DRD decided, nonetheless, to press on with its plan. It did so with no further consultation or meaningful re appraisal of the damage the scheme would do to both the local economy and the environment, including Special Areas of Conservation. This was despite the obvious fact that a partial scheme could not and would not deliver the benefits the Department claimed for the scheme at the Public Inquiry some months earlier. There was no consideration of the long term adverse impact on local businesses including farm businesses or of the indirect adverse consequences for the rest of the rural community. There was no concern for the householders whose homes would be devalued or for the local people who would be forced to make detours and longer daily journeys as their local road was now closed. Indeed the DRD saw the increased expenditure on fuel as a cost benefit of the scheme as it meant more fuel tax for the government.

    Is it too much to hope that Roads Service will now focus on upgrading the existing A5 in line with previously declared Roads Service Policy, so as to deliver improvements to this road that are needed but in a way that is affordable and not unnecessarily destructive of our environment, livelihoods and community? If the Department seeks to waste more tax payers’ money on promoting this scheme, we will continue to oppose it.

    Six months of Preliminary Works on Sections 1 and 3 have caused a lot of avoidable and needless damage to farmland, hedgerows and trees despite the protests of landowners. They have been rightly promised compensation but this could have been an entirely avoidable public expense. Moreover, it is as impossible to compensate for the loss of mature trees which cannot be readily replaced as it is impossible to compensate for the stress and ill health suffered by those directly affected by this scheme.

    So, now land owners will have to argue for compensation to help restore their land to its former state and level of productivity, all because a government Department refused to suspend work until the outcome of the legal challenge was known – as we argued in Court last December. This unpleasant and unjust situation stems from the unsatisfactory Compulsory Purchase Laws which continuously put ordinary citizens at a disadvantage – deluging them with unfamiliar reports and papers with overly short time scales to read, absorb and react to same but with no financial assistance to help cope with the Public Inquiry process. These same processes allow our Government to take over private property without agreeing a fair price in advance or paying before taking possession. This is why its victims feel compulsory purchase is more like confiscation. Since September 2012 Roads Service has constantly asserted its legal ownership of the vested land without paying most of the landowners a penny for it; has carried out extensive and damaging preliminary works on land that has been owned by the same family for generations; has behaved as if the legal challenge was a minor irritant and doomed to failure. Indeed we have recently learnt that Roads Service thought so little of our Court challenge that it has paid over £750,000 of public funds in compensation to a small number of owners. So we have many reasons to feel vindicated and relieved to hear that Mr Justice Stephens has quashed the Minister’s decision.

    We would like to thank our legal team for their dedicated and tireless pursuit of this case on our behalf and in particular Greg Jones QC for his advice and expert presentation of our arguments to the Court. We also commend our solicitor, Roger Watts of C & J Black for his diligence on our behalf, his patience with our queries and his commitment to our cause.

  • Morpheus

    @Drumlins Rock

    You are of course right about the £300m, poor research on my part.

    But do you agree that the official DRD traffic flow estimates for the A5 between Derry and Ballygawley prove that there is more than adequate demand for a duel-carriageway and that the estimates meet the DRD’s own criteria? Derry to Strabane alone will have more than double the minimum number of vehicles per day required for a duel-carriageway…double!

    As I said upgrades to other roads went ahead with similar or less traffic flow levels and this would have been the biggest-ever road development in Northern Ireland creating jobs when they were most needed.

    I concede that there is not adequate demand for the Ballygawley to Aughnacloy section of the road at this time so in my opinion that element of the road should be shelved until such times as the ROI can extend their duel-carriageways to meet it and the traffic can flow.

    From the above statement it appears the DRD didn’t carry out all the appropriate surveys and asessments. Shame on them for not getting all their ducks in a row but hopefully when all these are completed satisfactorily then this project will continue.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    @Los Lobos,

    Every congratulation on your success in opposing the waste and insanity of the A5 road replacement scheme. I’m at present watching the destruction of nature caused by its little brother in South Antrim every day I attempt to drive into Belfast from the Glens.

    But what else can anyone expect from “one party rule in two fiefdoms” to paraphrase David Crookes. The high handed behaviour of the authorities has been unimaginable to most of the local farmers involved, and the only good news is that it seems to have gone a long way to alienating much of the hard core DUP support amongst the local farming community. The only down side of this is that the TUV appears to be gaining support.

    Anecdotally, the actual payment for land siezed along the Larne Belfast line has as yet to be paid out many months into the preparation work. This is a poor precident for the compensation due to the A5 farmers. “Moreover, it is as impossible to compensate for the loss of mature trees which cannot be readily replaced as it is impossible to compensate for the stress and ill health suffered by those directly affected by this scheme.” I seriously doubt if any of this will ever be considered. Just who do these people on the hill consider they are governing on behalf of?

  • Boglover

    The justification for this road scheme was based on a safety case, where the lives saved made the investment worthwhile. However, it was always a political flagship for those wishing to demonstrate that they could deliver for their electorate. As noted by Justice Stevens, a Strategic Environmental Assessment wasn’t conducted to look at the alternatives. Had this taken place, it might have considered how many lives would have been saved by spending half the original £860m on a dualling scheme and half on cross-border medical services!

  • Morpheus

    “However, it was always a political flagship for those wishing to demonstrate that they could deliver for their electorate”

    Since when was politicans attempting to deliver for their electorate a bad thing?

    Even if you take the political parties out of the equation and look at the facts then the need for this road has been proven, and then some, by the DRD and the estimated traffic flow more than meets the criteria minimum requirements of a duel-carriageway.

    Should the tax-paying people of the west be denied a suitable roads system because some do not agree with the other policies of the political parties? It’s supposed to be about the people, not about a finger in the eye for the political parties involved.

    Get the proper assessments done and get this project started

  • observational

    Anyone who thinks that this case motivated by anything other than a rejection of the monetary values put on land along the Omagh-Ballygawley and Strabane-Newbuildings-Derry roads are absolutely kidding themselves. If the price had been right, we’d all be happily sitting in roadworks on the Ballygawley line [complaining about that, no doubt].

    However, it has to be said that the shambolic approach brought by the department in getting their house in order to progress this development shows just how inept and inadequate the “Government” really is. Where was due diligence here?

    Whilst I would love to see this progressed, as the people of West Tyrone deserve, I am resigned to the fact that this is now extremely unlikely to happen. Value-for-money public sector eh? And once again, the people of the west lose out.