Fresh doubts over A5 in wake of court judg­ment

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY BRETT CAMP­BELL

NORTH­ERN Ire­land’s big­gest ever road pro­ject could be the next victim of a court judg­ment that ques­tioned the abil­ity of of­fi­cials to make ma­jor pol­icy de­ci­sions in the ab­sence of de­vo­lu­tion.

The A5 Western Trans­port Cor­ri­dor was ap­proved by the Ex­ec­u­tive more than 10 years ago, but has been de­layed by a se­ries of le­gal chal­lenges.

The lat­est case will be heard in just over a fort­night, with the bill for the tax­payer ex­pected to be over £350,000.

Yes­ter­day, par­ties voiced con­cerns over the scheme’s fu­ture in the wake of a High Court judge

block­ing a de­ci­sion by a se­nior civil ser­vant to ap­prove a huge waste incin­er­a­tor plant at Mal­lusk.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan has slammed the A5 case as an “un­nec­es­sary waste of money”.

He said the de­ci­sion over the incin­er­a­tor “called into ques­tion the va­lid­ity of any de­ci­sions made by the Civil Ser­vice dur­ing the po­lit­i­cal im­passe and this is why it is es­sen­tial that we get clar­ity about the fu­ture of the A5”.

He said: “It is ab­so­lutely im­per­a­tive that there are no more de­lays in this crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject af­ter years of bro­ken prom­ises and non-de­liv­ery. There­fore, the only so­lu­tion to en­sure the de­liv­ery of this pro­ject is for politi­cians to get back to work.”

Mr McCrossan said he still be­lieved that the first phase of the scheme from New­build­ings to Stra­bane would go ahead, as it had re­ceived min­is­te­rial sign-off by the pre­vi­ous Ex­ec­u­tive.

He was speak­ing af­ter the Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment for In­fra­struc­ture (DfI) wrote to him to say that he does not “ex­pect any im­pact on the abil­ity to com­plete that sec­tion of the A5”. How­ever, last night a DfI spokesper­son was un­able to give re­as­sur­ances about the fu­ture of the flag­ship pro­ject. “The depart­ment con­tin­ues to con­sider the wider im­pli­ca­tions of Mon­day’s judg­ment,” they said.

Al­liance leader Naomi Long said she had con­cerns about the A5, say­ing the rul­ing “raised a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge to the law­ful­ness of de­ci­sion-mak­ing by the civil ser­vice in the ab­sence of de­volved in­sti­tu­tions. There are a num­ber of key in­fra­struc­ture projects, the progress of which could be jeop­ar­dised by the im­pli­ca­tions of yes­ter­day’s rul­ing, in­clud­ing the A5 Western Trans­port Cor­ri­dor and the North­South in­ter­con­nec­tor.”

“The Sec­re­tary of State needs to ur­gently ap­point an in­de­pen­dent fa­cil­i­ta­tor to re­con­vene all-party talks as soon as pos­si­ble and pur­sue agree­ment from all to have As­sem­bly com­mit­tees sit, in or­der to scru­ti­nise and ad­vise de­part­ments on key de­ci­sions and pol­icy, tak­ing for­ward leg­is­la­tion on is­sues,” she said.

Ul­ster Union­ist MLA Rose­mary Bar­ton also warned that the Government needs to act fol­low­ing the “very sig­nif­i­cant” rul­ing which threat­ens many projects. “Ei­ther through the Sec­re­tary of State in­tro­duc­ing di­rect rule or mak­ing a re­newed ef­fort to get all-party talks started im­me­di­ately,” she said.

How­ever, a Sinn Fein spokesper­son said the A5 is “a very dif­fer­ent sce­nario” to the Arc 21 incin­er­a­tor pro­ject as it was granted ap­proval by for­mer DfI min­is­ter Chris Haz­zard be­fore the in­sti­tu­tions col­lapsed.

They said there was “ab­so­lutely no rea­son” why con­struc­tion of the 85km road should not pro­ceed fol­low­ing the res­o­lu­tion of the pend­ing court case.

A Government spokesper­son said the Sec­re­tary of State is con­sid­er­ing the High Court judg­ment on the incin­er­a­tor.

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