All I want for Christmas is a better road to Belfast

As a Saffron now living west of the Bann all I really want for Christmas is the upgrading of the A6. Which Christmas though?

Being a heavy commuter of some years I know how hours spent in a car with just coffee and bad podcasts can affect quality of life, time spent with family and general health and wellbeing.

Public transport with WiFi helps but any time that can be knocked off bus or car journey times would be a god-send.

Environmental concerns have been expressed about the impact the A6 work will have on Heaney country but the majority of the work scheduled has no such problems.

In an answer to the SDLP’s Gerry Mullan on 14th December the Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard provided an update on both A6 dualling projects, Randalstown to Castledawson (Antrim/South Derry) and Dungiven to Derry City (North Derry).

“In August I announced my intention to proceed with the £160m Randalstown to Castledawson dualling scheme and the making of the Vesting Order. This 14.7km scheme comprises two sections of new dual carriageway located either side of the Toome Bypass.

“In September an application for Leave for a Judicial Review was received. On the 24 November 2016 the courts ruled out five of the six grounds stated in the application for the Judicial Review. A Judicial Review hearing on the one remaining ground relating to the Habitats Directive will be heard early in the new year.

“While I had hoped that we would have been able to proceed immediately with this strategically important scheme, I look forward to an early date for the hearing.

“All preliminary works adjacent to the environmentally sensitive, Special Protection Area, home to the Whooper Swans have been completed in accordance with our environmental commitments. Preliminary works are ongoing along the remainder of the scheme.

“I am also currently working with officials to consider options for commencing construction on the unchallenged section of this project, from Randalstown to Toome, should the Judicial Review process cause significant delay.”

And what about the North Derry section including Dungiven which has by now infamous “unsafe levels of pollution”?  :

“The 30km Derry to Dungiven scheme, which includes a 5km bypass of Dungiven, is well advanced in terms of development.

“Work is progressing to determine the extent of the Derry to Dungiven scheme that can be delivered within the funding allocations contained in the December 2015 Budget Statement, with priority being given to commencing construction with a bypass of Dungiven and progressing westwards towards Drumahoe.

“I am fully committed to maximising the upgrading of the A6 during this mandate and I am currently engaging with officials about expediting delivery of the scheme. Subject to completing the statutory orders and confirmation of funding in the forthcoming budget, construction work on this Derry to Dungiven dualling project could commence in the latter part of 2018/19.”

More detail on the A6 is available on Wesley Johnston’s excellent website for the North Derry and Antrim/South Derry projects respectively.

The New Year will see further legal proceedings but 2017 will hopefully see significant work commence that will finally start to bring Derry and Belfast closer together.

Before legal proceedings commenced it was envisaged that Toome to Randalstown would open in early 2019 and Toome to Castledawson would be finished by early 2020. As one of the Executive’s flagship projects for this Assembly term further slippages can ill be afforded