The Department for Infrastructure today announced its 'Decision to Proceed' with the A5 Western Transport Corridor scheme, with construction of the section between New Buildings and north of Strabane ready to start in early 2018.
Commenting on the progression of the scheme, the Department’s Permanent Secretary Peter May said:
“This decision concurs with the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) recommendation that the scheme should proceed in the wider public interest. Before giving approval for the scheme to proceed, careful consideration was given to the PAC Report and the Department’s assessment of the environmental impacts of the scheme. In proceeding with the scheme, the Department commits to carrying out the necessary actions to implement the PAC recommendations and mitigation measures as described in the Department’s Statement and the Environmental Statement. Construction will start as soon as possible.”
Mr May continued:
“The decision to proceed takes account of the clear direction from the previous Executive that this Flagship project should commence as soon as possible. The outgoing Infrastructure Minister was also clear that the A5WTC scheme was a key priority. This is a strategically important project for the region and one which will benefit the economy as a whole, as well as improving journey times and road safety for the thousands of daily users of this route.
“In the current economic climate, this announcement of Phase 1a of the scheme - a 15 kilometre stretch of new dual carriageway from New Buildings to north of Strabane - starting in early 2018, will be welcome news for the construction industry. The scheme should lead to an increase in demand for local suppliers of construction materials, as well as a boost to commercial trade in the surrounding area. There will also be a considerable focus on social sustainability with the construction contract incorporating targeted recruitment and training opportunities for both young and long-term unemployed people. Phase 1a has an estimated cost of £150 million to deliver. Under the Fresh Start Agreement the Irish Government has agreed to contribute £75 million over three years.”
The A5 Western Transport Corridor dual carriageway scheme is an Executive flagship project which will provide 85 kilometres of dual carriageway commencing just south of Londonderry at New Buildings, bypassing Strabane, Newtownstewart, Omagh, Ballygawley and Aughnacloy before terminating at the existing A5 just south of Aughnacloy. Further phases of the scheme will be constructed on confirmation of funding, while Phase 3 (between Ballygawley and the border at Aughnacloy) remains on hold pending clarification from the Irish Government on its proposals for the adjoining N2.
It is one of five key transport corridors in the region and the proposed upgrade will improve links between urban centres in the west and provide a strategic link with international gateways.
In order to discharge its obligation under the Habitats Regulations the Department commissioned the preparation of a number of Reports of Information to Inform an Appropriate Assessment relating to the likely impacts of the A5WTC upon Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Ramsar sites. The reports have been the subject of consultation with statutory bodies, other interested parties and the general public and have been updated in light of all consultation responses received, any changes in circumstances, the public inquiry process and any additional information available to the Department. The final versions of these reports, together with a Habitats Regulations Assessment Summary Report, set out an assessment of those impacts.
Accordingly, in light of the assessment undertaken and the information presented within the Reports of Information to Inform an Appropriate Assessment, the Habitats Regulations Assessment Summary Report and the Environmental Statement, the Department (as the competent authority) is satisfied, taking account of the proposed mitigation measures, that the construction and operation of the A5 Western Transport Corridor scheme would not, by itself or in combination with other known plans or projects, adversely affect the integrity of the River Foyle and Tributaries SAC, the Owenkillew River SAC, the River Finn SAC, the Tully Bog SAC, the Lough Foyle SPA, the Lough Swilly SPA, the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg SPA, the Lough Foyle Ramsar Site or the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg Ramsar Site, in view of their conservation objectives.
The Department will now publish the formal Notice of Intention to Proceed, make available to the public the PAC Report and the Department’s Statement, make the Direction Order for the length of the scheme between New Buildings and Ballygawley, and make the Vesting Order for Phase 1a between New Buildings and north of Strabane.
Notes to editors:
- The general effect of the A5WTC project will be to construct approximately 85 kilometres of new trunk road from just south of Londonderry at New Buildings, passing close to Strabane, Newtownstewart, Omagh, Ballygawley and Aughnacloy before terminating at the existing A5 just south of Aughnacloy.
- In November 2015 the former Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government agreed through ‘A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan’ that construction of the first section of the A5WTC would commence as soon as possible. The first section to be constructed was identified as the route between New Buildings and north of Strabane. This section is now known as Phase 1a. Under the above Agreement the Irish Government also reaffirmed its support of the commitment under the St Andrews Agreement to co-fund the construction of the A5 within Northern Ireland.
- Following a successful legal challenge to the scheme in 2013 in relation to compliance with the Habitats Directive, DfI Roads has worked to address the area of concern raised by the Court ruling. The scheme was updated leading to the Ministerial announcement in February 2016 of publication of and consultation on the Environmental Statement; the Notice of Intention to Make a Direction Order; Notices of Intention to Make Vesting Orders and Notice of Intention to Make a Stopping-Up of Private Accesses Order.
- In April 2016 the Department appointed the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) to hold public inquiries into the Environmental Statement and the above draft Orders (hereinafter referred to as the Public Inquiry). The Public Inquiry commenced on 4 October 2016 and concluded on 14 December 2016. The PAC Report from the Public Inquiry was received by the Department on 25 May 2017.
- Regulation 43(1) of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) (“the Habitats Regulations”) (which implement in Northern Ireland Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (the Habitats Directive)) requires that a “competent authority”, before deciding to undertake, or give consent, permission or other authorisation for a plan or project which
- a) is likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site in Northern Ireland (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects); and
- b) is not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site shall make an appropriate assessment of the implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives in line with Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive.
- The Appropriate Assessment must be undertaken by the “competent authority” as defined in Regulation 5 of the Habitats Regulations. The Department for Infrastructure is the “competent authority” for strategic road improvement schemes in Northern Ireland and it has therefore undertaken an Appropriate Assessment on the A5WTC project, which has been reviewed and revised as the project has progressed.
- The Executive’s Budget 2016-17 identified the A5WTC as a flagship project and as such an indicative financial allocation of £229 million was provided for the 2016 to 2021 period. In the Fresh Start Agreement the Irish Government reaffirms its commitment to providing funding of £50 million for the project. It also committed an additional £25 million to ensure that Phase 1 of the project can commence as soon as possible.
- An electronic version of the Departmental Statement and the PAC Report may be viewed at: https://www.infrastructure-ni.gov.uk/publications. Electronic versions of all other documents relating to the project, may be viewed at: https://www.a5wtc.com/
- All media queries should be directed to the Department for Infrastructure Press Office on 028 9054 0007 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned.