A5 Dualling Londonderry to Aughnacloy

("Western Transport Corridor" or A5WTC)

 

Status
Long-term plan (to be constructed in phases)
Where
To upgrade the entire A5 to dual-carriageway from the Irish border near Aughnacloy, via Omagh and Strabane, to Derry.
Total Length
88 km / 55 miles
Dates

17 Jul 2007 - NI Executive agrees to proceed with the plan

14 Nov 2007 - Consultants appointed to select preferred route

7 Nov 2008 - Preferred route corridor [not exact route] announced

Feb 2009 - Route options displayed to the public

21 July 2009 - Preferred route announced

Nov 2010 - Pre-orders Exhibition and draft statutory orders published

9 May to 1 July 2011 - Public Inquiries held
9 Nov 2011 - Irish government withdraws funding offer (officially on 10th)
Late 2011 - Inspector due to submit Reports into Public Inquiries

14 Feb 2012 - Decision to proceed with Derry-Strabane & Omagh-Ballygawley stretches by the end of the year.
Mar 2012 - Reports into Public Inquiries given to DRD
31 July 2012 - Scheme passes public inquiry with some amendments

Sep/Oct 2012 - Construction of two stretches was to have begun (as of Feb 2012 - changed from "2016" as of Nov 2011; and "2012" as of Feb 2009)

10 Sep 2012 - Legal challenge received, and scheme put on hold
12 Mar 2013 - Judge upholds one of the legal challenges
8 Apr 2013 - Judge quashes decision to proceed with scheme
April 2014 - Public consultation on 3 Habitats Directive assessments expected (as of Mar 2014)
Sep 2014 - Public consultation Tully Bog Habitats Directive assessments expected (as of Mar 2014)
Nov 2014 - Expected publication of amended Environmental Statement (as of Mar 2014)
Spring/Summer 2015 - Public inquiry expected (as of Mar 2014)
Spring/Summer 2016 - Construction could begin, subject to public inquiry outcome

Cost

£844m (as of August 2009)
---£170m for Derry to Strabane (as of Feb 2012)
---£160m for Omagh to Ballyawley (as of Feb 2012)

(revised from £650m - £850m as of Nov 2008)

Initially calculated to be approx £560m in 2007

Irish government is contributing £400m to this scheme and the A8 upgrade

(See important notes on costs below when interpreting these figures)

Contractors

Section 1 (Newbuildings to south of Strabane) - BAM, Balfour Beatty, FP McCann, ARUP, Atkins.

Section 2 (South of Strabane to south of Omagh) - Sisk, Roadbridge, PT McWilliams, Fehily Timoney Gifford.

Section 3 (South of Omagh to Aughnacloy) - Graham, Farrans, Scott Wilson, Halcrow.

See Also

Official web site on scheme - A5WTC

General area map

Strabane Lifford Link Road on this site

N14 upgrade - Donegal County Council (on hold as of Oct 2010)

Alternative A5 Alliance - group opposed to the scheme

We Support the A5 - Facebook group supporting the scheme

Click here to jump straight down to updates for this scheme

NOTE: In light of the way this scheme is now being broken into phases, I am turning this page into a general page about the overall plan for the A5, and producing separate pages for each phase. Hence you can visit:

  1. A5 dualling Londonderry to Strabane - on this site
  2. A5 dualling Omagh to Ballygawley - on this site

The Plan

This ambitious road scheme, which was originally to be progressed thanks partly to £400m of the necessary funds being made available by the Republic of Ireland, would have been the single largest road scheme ever undertaken in Northern Ireland. The original plan, as of 2007, was to convert the entire 55 mile A5 to a high-quality dual-carriageway. The A5 is the main north-south route in the west of the province connecting the A4/M1 route which runs across the south of the province to the A6 route which runs across the north. It serves the principal towns of Omagh and Strabane along the way, as well as terminating in Londonderry city. From an all-Ireland perspective the A5 is an extension of the Irish N2 road, the main route from Dublin to Derry and Donegal. The map below shows the existing A5. In November 2011 Dublin announced that its contribution would be delayed. Hence in February 2012 it was decided to break the project up and build it in phases. See links above.

The standard of the proposed road is very high (technical term is "Category 6"). It will consist of two 7.3 metre carriageways with 1 metre hard strips on either side and a 2.5 metre crash barrier, as shown below. The central reservation will be continuous, ie there will be no right-turns. This means that all junctions will be either grade separated, be limited to left-in/left-out movements only, or be at-grade roundabouts.

Image clipped from a PDF on the A5WTC site at this location.

Route

The most detailed route maps are downloadable from the A5WTC site, under "Brochures" and as of November 2010 show what is very likely to be the finalised route. Junctions on the new road are a mixture of full-scale grade-separated junctions (like proper motorway junctions), compact grade-separated junctions (such as have been built recently on the A1) and ordinary roundabouts. The strip map below shows the various junctions proposed. The numbers are as given in document released in November 2010, but are probably for reference only. Interestingly, the proposed road will set a new record for the longest stretch of dual-carriageway/motorway with no junctions in Northern Ireland: the 14.6 km/9.1 mile stretch between Seskinore and Ballygawley.


NORTH

Begins as A5 Victoria Road, Newbuildings

(approx 2 miles / 4 km south of Londonderry)

Junction 1:

Newbuildings (north)

 

B?? Victoria Road
(current A5)


1 lane each way – 1.3 km / 0.8 miles

Junction 2:

Newbuildings (south)

.

Link road to B??

(current A5)

 
13.0 km / 8.1 miles

Junction 3:

Strabane (north)

Local access

B?? (current A5)

 

B?? (current A5)

into Strabane

 
2.9 km / 1.8 miles

Junction 4 / 5:

Strabane (centre)

Access to/from the north only.


Access to Park Road

.

A38 Lifford Road

B?? (Current A5)

Railway Street
(town centre)

B?? (Current A5)

 
0.5 km / 0.3 miles

Junction 6:

Strabane (centre)

Access to/from the south only.

River Mourne

 

.

B?? (Current A5)

Bradley Way
(town centre)

B?? (Current A5)

 
1.3 km / 0.8 miles

Junction 7:

Strabane (at Urney Road)

No access to local road network.

A5 turns at 90° via roundabout.

Proposed link to

N14/N15 in Donegal

(see here)

 
 
2.6 km / 1.6 miles

Junction 8:

Strabane (south) / Sion Mills


B?? (Current A5)

into Strabane

 

B?? (Current A5)

into Sion Mills

 

5.2 km / 3.2 miles

Junction 9:
Victoria Bridge

B72 Fyfin Road

 B72 Fyfin Road

 into Victoria Bridge

 
5.8 km / 3.6 miles

Junction 10:

Newtownstewart

Drumlegagh Road North

B84 Baronscourt Road

.

 B84 Baronscourt Road

 into Newtownstewart

 
12.0 km / 7.4 miles

Junction 11:

Omagh (north)

Drumlegagh Road South

B?? (Current A5)

Beltany Road

A?? (Current A5)

Beltany Road

Into Omagh

 
5.7 km / 3.5 miles

Junction 12:

Omagh (west)

A32 Clanabogan Road

("Dromore Road")

towards Enniskillen

A32 Clanabogan Road

("Dromore Road")

into Omagh

 
4.0 km / 2.5 miles

Junction 13:

Omagh (south)

B83 Seskinore Road 

A?? Doogary Road

(Current A5)

into Omagh

 

B?? (Current A5)

 
6.7 km / 4.2 miles

Junction 14:

Seskinore

 

B46 Moylagh Road

into Seskinore

Augherpoint Road

B46 Moylagh Road
 
14.6 km / 9.1 miles

Junction 15:

Ballygawley

A4 Annaghilla Road

towards Enniskillen

New link road

into Ballygawley

A4 dual-carriageway

towards Belfast

.

 
4.9 km / 3.0 miles

Junction 16:

Aughnacloy (north)

Access to/from the north only.

B?? (Current A5)

Tullyvar Road

into Aughnacloy

B?? (Current A5)

 

Loughans Road

 
3.5 km / 2.2 miles

Junction 17:

Aughnacloy (south)

Caledon Road

into Aughnacloy)

A28 Caledon Road

towards Armagh

 

1 lane each way – 1.5 km / 0.9 miles

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND BORDER

Continues as N2 to Dublin

SOUTH

 

Cross Border Funding

The Republic of Ireland agreed to part-fund the scheme as part of the St Andrews Agreement of 2006. The offer of funding from the Republic of Ireland was accepted by the Northern Ireland Executive at a plenary session of the North-South Ministerial Council on 17 July 2007. This committment has remained, even after the major funding cutbacks announced by Dublin in November 2010 - see the update below on 25 November 2010 for more information. Due to its size, and its cross-border nature, the project is being managed by a three-tier structure which is (starting with the most senior) (a) Cross Border Steering Group (b) Technical Group and (c) Project Team.

Updates

19 Jun 2014: The consultation period for the three reports into the impacts of the scheme on environmentally sensitive sites that were published in April ended on 13th June. We're expecting the fourth and final report to be published in September 2014, with the updated Environmental Statement, Vesting Order and Direction Order to be issued for public consultation in November 2014. The timescale remains unchanged, with a new A5 Public Inquiry anticipated for May/June 2015, ie just under a year from now. The DRD have also said that meetings will be held with affected landowners from May 2014 (ie, last month) to September 2014. These meetings will "confirm land ownership, accommodation works, etc as well as any issues arising out of the review of Agricultural Impact Assessments". On this timescale, realistically we could see construction work on the two initial sections of the road getting underway in the second half of 2016, ie four years later than originally planned.

1 May 2014: Further to the previous update, the official A5 web site www.a5wtc.com was updated yesterday afternoon, and the first three of the four reports into the impacts of the scheme on environmentally sensitive sites can now be downloaded from here.

27 Apr 2014: Two days ago the DRD issued a press release announcing the publication of the first three of the four reports into the impacts of the scheme on environmentally sensitive sites have been published, as anticipated in the previous update. The press release say that further details can be found on the scheme's official site www.a5wtc.com, but two days on there is still no reference to them there. In fact the official A5WTC site is embarrassingly out of date, apparently not having been updated for over a year (as of the time of writing). So unfortunately I have no idea what these reports say. However, those who are interested have got six weeks in which to go and view hard copies in the ten locations listed in the press release. The press release also confirms that the Environmental Statement, Vesting Order and Direction Order have been updated and will be issued for public consultation in November 2014. The Environmental Statement is the document that sets out the rationale for the scheme and outlines its impacts (positive and negative). The Direction Order is a legal document that gives the DRD legal permission to create new trunk road. The Vesting Order is the legal document that allows the DRD to buy the available land. The public inquiry, which will surely follow the public consultation, is an examination of these three documents. Interestingly, DRD have chosen to split the Vesting Order into two separate Vesting Orders. The first will be for the land needed for the two parts of the scheme that are to proceed within the next couple of years (Newbuildings to north of Strabane; and south of Omagh to Ballygawley), and the second for the rest of the scheme (north of Strabane to south of Omagh). This means that landowners unaffected by the first two parts of the scheme may not have their land vested just yet. This was also the case in 2012, except that back then there was only one Vesting Order - which the DRD partly implemented. This new approach makes it clearer and simpler.

19 Mar 2014: The Minister gave a bit more information about the future of this scheme in the Assembly yesterday. He confirmed what we knew about there being four new reports under way to meet the obligations of the court ruling (see previous update below). He confirmed that three of these will be put out for public consultation in April 2014, but added that the fourth would be likely to be published in September 2014. He then gave new dates, namely that the environmental statement (which has apparently had to be modified to take account of the judge's ruling last year) plus the new draft legal orders will be put out for public consultation in November 2014. He said that this "may lead to the need for a further public inquiry" - which I would say is a virtual certainty given the controversy that this scheme has seen - and that if so, it would be held in the spring or summer of 2015. After the previous public inquiry into this scheme - which took place in May and June 2011 - the whole process of writing the inquiry report, digesting its findings and announcing that the scheme would proceed took 12 months. Since contractors have already been appointed, construction could probably begin within a few weeks of the scheme passing the inquiry - which it likely will, since it passed first time round and nothing of substance has changed in the interim. This would mean that commencement of construction has now been pushed back to spring or summer 2016, ie just over two years from now and almost ten years after the scheme's inception. This will be disappointing for supporters of the scheme, but proper procedures must be followed. The Minister himself is being scrupulous in not pre-empting the outcome of the public inquiry (as I just have!), and is keen to point out that any mistakes that may have been made first time round were not during his tenure as Minister. The only big unknown is funding - the scheme can only progress to construction if it has funding, and this decision will be for the Finance Minister rather than the DRD Minister to decide. If the Northern Ireland Executive felt it prudent to prioritise other schemes over this one, it is possible that the scheme could go through all the proper processes, remain "live", advance to a 'shovel ready' state, but not proceed to construction straight away due to lack of a funding allocation.

1 Mar 2014: The DRD are now giving more detail on what is happening on the "appropriate assessments" that they are having to carry out under the EU's Habitats Directive as a result of the successful legal challenge in March 2013. Their web site is now saying that three of these four reports have now been largely completed and will be put out for public consultation in April 2014. The fourth report, which seems to relate to Tully Bog, will not be completed and put out to consultation until "later in the year". This timescale suggests to me that the scheme will probably not be ready to resume construction during 2014, but it could be underway during 2015. We will have to wait and see what is in the material shown to the public in April. The A5 scheme has now been in planning for almost 7 years.

22 Jan 2014: This update is just to mention two recent comments by the DRD Minister. Firstly, the Minister was asked about this scheme yet again in the Assembly last week. He reiterated the official line: the scheme is delayed, not cancelled; that they are working hard on the appropriate assessment that was missing the first time round; there may be a new Environmental Statement and an associated public consultation some time in the Spring; and the Irish government remains committed. However, he did make a comment that we can theorise about: he said that after the missing assessments that resulted in the successful legal challenge have been sorted out, "updated programme and project milestones will need to be prepared for agreement by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, taking account of the financial commitments in place". This comment does NOT commit to any particular timescale, so it could result in work starting as soon as possible, but equally it could mean the scheme being delayed by a few years in order to free up resources to work on other schemes like further work on the A6. This is an option that could help the DRD Minister get out of the awkward situation of being simultaneously pressured to progress schemes like the A6, yet also being pressured not to abandon the A5 scheme. But this is my conjecture and we will have to wait and see. Secondly, he confirmed in a Question For Written Answer last week that the assessment under the Habitats Directive was, as we knew, carried out by the DRD's consultant, Mouchel. He went on to say "I have asked for an independent review of the project consultant’s work in respect of the completion of the Appropriate Assessment process. An independent review of the methodology proposed to address the Court’s Ruling is substantially complete and a review of the Appropriate Assessment and Environmental Statement processes is ongoing. When these urgent aspects of the review are finalised, the focus of the independent review will switch to the adequacy of the screening work previously carried out by Mouchel." This is a sensitive topic as it involves the reputation of a large firm, so it would not be appropriate for me to speculate further on this except to say that the DRD intend to investigate the advice originally given in order to determine if anything could have been done differently. At this point in time the DRD Minister has not expressed any opinion on the matter publicly.

4 Dec 2013: In an article in Business Month two days ago (article is not available online) the Northern Ireland Freight Trade Association (FTA) predicts that the A5 scheme will be abandoned, or at least scaled back further in scale. They predict that Dublin's contribution will not be forthcoming (although this is not the official position in Dublin, who insist that they are committed). They further predict that the political will in Northern Ireland has dwindled and, while the FTA "supported it fully when times were good" they now felt that the money would be better spent on dualling the A6. The two main difficulties any DRD Minister will have when considering an option such as this are (a) the support that the scheme has from many who live in West Tyrone and (b) that it would mean largely writing off the £58m that has been spent on the scheme to date, a colossal sum of money to waste (eg the entire Westlink upgrade cost £104m). This is all speculation, however, so all we can do is wait and see.

5 Nov 2013: Work has been ongoing for some months now on the "appropriate assessment" required under the Habitats Directive as per the court ruling in April. The DRD Minister gave an update on the scheme in the Assembly yesterday saying: "Four reports are currently being developed to inform habitats regulations assessments of the potential impacts on the various designated sites arising out of the A5 WTC project. It is proposed that the consultation on those reports will commence in spring 2014." It is not yet clear whether or not the contents of these four reports will require further Public Inquiries but, if not, we could see the project restored to "shovel ready" status within a year or so. Whether they then proceed to construction, of course, depends on whether the Executive is prepared to allocate new funds to it, which is uncertain given that some of the cash has now been reallocated to other schemes, most recently the A31 Magherafelt Bypass and the A26 dualling scheme north of Glarryford. In other news, in a Question for Written Answer about four weeks ago, the DRD Minister reported that the total cost of reinstating vested lands which reverted to the previous landowners after April's court ruling will be approximately £1.5m. Landowners can ask the DRD to do this work, or they can accept money to do it themselves. To date, less than half of the 113 affected landowners have submitted their claims, and total compensation paid to date has been just under £587,000.

23 Jun 2013: Work is presumably well underway on the "appropriate assessment" required under the Habitats Directive, and the DRD Minister seems to remain fully committed to progressing this scheme once that step is completed. In a Question for Written Answer two weeks ago, the Minister gave more detail on the costs incurred on the scheme to date. He said that the total was £58.238 million, of which "£47,782,000 was used for [mostly planning & design] fees; £4,353,000 for surveys; £1,508,000 for construction costs; £1,792,000 for contractor’s design costs; £894,000 for utilities costs; £744,000 for public consultation/legal costs and £1,165,000 for land/ compensation". With so much expense to date it would seem difficult for the Minister to justify cancelling the project at this point. Along the same vein, Action for the A5 (a local community group that supports the A5 scheme) has threatened legal action against the DRD to force them to set a firm timetable for progressing the scheme.

28 Apr 2013: The DRD Minister has now met representatives of the farmers affected by the A5 project and has also met representatives of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce. In the former case, the farmers wanted to know whether the A5 would still go ahead or be abandoned, a question the DRD Minister is unable to answer at this time as the decision has not been made, and will not be at least until the Appropriate Assessment under the Habitats Directive is completed. In the latter case, the Chamber pressed for the need for improved roads in the West. Additionally, the DRD has now confirmed a few more noteworthy facts. First the project will be delayed by a minimum of one year (source). Second, that the A5 project has thus far cost £60m, of which the majority - £47m - was design. Third, that the Vesting Order does seem to have also been quashed, since the DRD has confirmed that all vested land has now reverted back to their former landowners (source), who are presumably now free to do what they want with the fencing etc erected by the DRD during the time they owned it. Fourth, that a small number of landowners have already been paid for their land, to the tune of £795,566. This money will presumably have to be repaid, but this is made tricky by the fact that some of the landowners have apparently already spent it. The DRD has vowed to treat each landowner on an individual basis, and has set out a number of compensation arrangements for those who has land has been affected. They will also compensate farmers who were unable to use their fields during this time, and for fences/hedges etc already removed. Uncertainly remains, however, since the project could yet go ahead meaning all this land could well be re-vested in a year or two. Finally, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson is clearly unhappy with the action taken by the Alternative A5 Alliance which he described as an abuse of law. He said "I am unhappy about this decision. This is happening time and time again now. People are objecting and are taking issues to the courts. They are finding some minutiae in some European law that they know is simply going to delay a project. It is not going to stop it and yet for their own reasons use the court systems for that. The executive needs to ensure the system is not abused in this way." (source)

15 Apr 2013: Today the DRD Minister made a statement on the A5. There are four important elements to the statement. First, he announced that he would not be appealing the ruling that the DRD was in breach of the Habitats Directive. This is not that surprising since DRD themselves accepted the point, so it's hard to see on what grounds they could appeal. So the judge will formally quash the decision to proceed in the next day or so. Second, he announced that the DRD would be carrying out the required analysis under the Habitats Directive now and added that "when this is completed I will consider the matter further". He is being very careful with what he says, adding the warning that "it is important that the outcomes of any new assessment are not pre-judged and therefore I cannot provide any further detail at this time regarding timescales other than to say that there will be substantial delay." So at this point he is pressing ahead with the A5 project, but the ambiguous wording means that he has neither abandoned nor fully committed to it. He seems to be holding off a final decision until the outcome of the assessment is known. This may be because it is possible that the assessment might impact on the Environmental Statement, which has already gone through a Public Inquiry. If this is the case, a new Public Inquiry might result, which could delay the project by up to two years. If not, the process would be quicker, perhaps a delay of six months. There is also a good chance that opponents of the scheme will make further legal challenges. So at this stage we don't know how long the delay will be. Thirdly, he said that "my officials will seek to engage with landowners to carefully work through the next steps in relation to land issues." This presumably refers to the awkward situation created by the fact that preliminary site works have been underway for some months, and it's not clear to me exactly what the legal status of the vested land now is. Fourthly, he made a very interesting comment that "Given the delay, it is important that other schemes that may be in a position to be progressed ahead of the A5 are given full consideration by the Executive. Therefore I intend to bring forward an Executive paper detailing other options such as moving forward with procurement on other possible schemes". This is the clearest indication yet seen that the DRD will seek to bring forward other schemes to use the surplus money during the extended delay, as I discussed over on my blog last week.

8 Apr 2013: The judge today announced his decision to quash the decision to proceed with this scheme, a major decision that has the potential to delay the project by at least 21 months and possibly lead to the Minister abandoning it entirely. I have written an in-depth assessment of this decision over on my blog. The DRD now have 7 days to decide whether to appeal the decision. If not, and if the Minister decides to press ahead, it looks likely that there will have to be a new Public Inquiry, probably during 2014 with construction pushed into 2015. This is not a good outcome for the DRD. I have moved this scheme back down to "schemes in planning" since it's now unlikely that it will proceed within the next 12 months.

20 Mar 2013: In my previous update I noted that the judge had upheld one of the Alternative A5 Alliance's challenges to the scheme, that the DRD failed to meet legislation under the Habitats Directive. I said that the DRD had been given 8 days to come up with new evidence to convince the judge not to quash the project. From piecing together various news reports (Newsletter, UTV News and BBC News) I believe that the DRD has (a) asked the judge for permission to go ahead and complete the missing report under the Habitats Directive and (b) is to launch an appeal against the judgement of 12 March. The judge has neither approved nor refused the first request, has NOT yet quashed the decision to proceed with the road and has adjourned the hearing until 12 April, which means a further three week delay. However he has also instructed the DRD to halt all ongoing site works (see update on 1 Dec 2012 below) if the former landowners object, which seems very likely to be the case. The Alternative A5 Alliance are not happy with this turn of events, and their lawyer said in court today "My clients have come a long way this morning and left at early hours for a matter of the gravest importance to them, to be told ‘no, the orders are going to remain in place’ when Your Lordship has found they are unlawful and in breach of European law."

12 Mar 2013: As anticipated, the judge gave his ruling today. He rejected 5 of the 6 challenges made by the Alternative A5 Alliance, but upheld one: that the DRD failed to meet legislation under the Habitats Directive. They have been given 8 days to come up with new evidence to convince the judge not to quash the project. I have offered more in-depth analysis of this over on my blog but the upshot is that the concept, standard, route and design of the project has survived the challenge. Since the lack of compliance with legislation can probably only delay the project, I think we can say that the road probably will proceed sooner or later. Certainly there is no reason why the Omagh to Ballygawley section cannot proceed, since the lack of compliance with the Habitats Directive has no material impact on this stretch.

11 Mar 2013: Apparently the lack of word since the hearing in mid February is due to the judge giving a reserved judgement, ie he considers the matter and makes a judgement at a later date. The word on the street is that this will come tomorrow, 12 March. If true, that means that tomorrow we will find out whether (a) work on the two elements of the scheme will get underway immediately or (b) work will have to stop and the DRD revisit the whole project. Nail biting stuff for both sides. With thanks to Conor Macauley at the BBC for the info on the type of judgement.

3 Mar 2013: There is lots of frustration at the lack of news on this scheme. The legal challenge did indeed get underway on 12-14 February, and indeed seems to run on for some days after that. The objector's case seemed to focus on the assertion that the environmental statement, which was prepared for the entire scheme) was invalid if only part of the scheme was going ahead. The DRD, for their part, seem to have offered a robust defence. Since then, however, there has been no news at all. We don't even know if the legal challenge is still underway and paused, or awaiting a judgement, or concluded and the result not released. The Alternative A5 Alliance, the group making their challenge, do not seem to keep their web site up-to-date which does not help. Whichever is the case, the silence is intensely frustrating to all concerned. The strong feelings being generated by this project were manifested ten days ago in this incident.

27 Jan 2013: Speaking in the Assembly last week, the DRD Minister confirmed that they have been given special dispensation to carry forward £50m of funding from the A5 scheme into the 2014-15 financial year, which is great news as this means the money will not be lost. It also means that the money will not have to be reallocated to other projects, however, so the possibility I have previously spoken about of other projects being promoted now seems to have receded again. The situation with the £50m was also mentioned in the Londonderry Sentinel three weeks ago. Meanwhile the Minister also confirmed to the Assembly that if the DRD win's the legal challenge to be heard in two weeks' time (12-14 Feb) work on the ground could begin in earnest by April, around 7 months after the original start date.

1 Jan 2013: As a new year dawns, there is at least now a date for the court hearing that will decide the Alternative A5 Alliance's legal challenge. It will be heard on 12-14 February 2012. The A5A are saying on their web site that "Roads Service confirmed to the Court that it would not carry out any interim works, pending the outcome of this case, on vested land if the former landowners did not consent to such works being carried out." Hopefully this court hearing will settle the matter one way or the other so that everyone can move on.

1 Dec 2012: The legal challenge is proceeding with painful slowness. The second 'preliminary' court hearing was held on Thursday, as reported by the BBC and UTV. This hearing seemed to be confined to the two sides arguing about how much costs they should have to pay should the other side lose. It now seems that the main hearing (the judicial review) will not be heard until January at the earliest, so the issue that the Executive is losing £700,000 per month due to this delay is becoming a very real, and very costly issue. If it continues for much longer we may see other schemes pulled out from the waiting list for early implementation in order to salvage some of this money. The main candidates are on the A6: the Dungiven Bypass, and the dualling of the stretch from Randalstown to Castledawson. However, the planning for the A55 widening scheme at Knock, Belfast is also well advanced and could conceivably go ahead with relatively short notice. Meanwhile, Roads Service have confirmed that since the Vesting Oder for the A5 scheme is now in effect, they now own all the necessary land. They have therefore commenced advanced site works, which include "fencing off the vested lands, archaeology surveys, ground investigation, ecology mitigation for bats and badgers, service diversions and site clearance relating to removing possible nesting habitats. These activities are considered critical to the construction programme going forward and some are governed by seasonal constraints". However, this work is now the result of a separate legal challenge has been made against this work, with an application for an injunction to halt the work scheduled to be heard "later in December".

20 Nov 2012: Roads Service have confirmed on their web site that another preliminary hearing into the Alternative A5 Alliance's legal challenge against the scheme has been scheduled for 29th November. Hopefully we will move quickly on this issue so that it can be resolved either way. As there is now a real risk of some of this funding being lost to Northern Ireland, there appear to be considerable efforts going on behind the scenes involving both DRD and the Department of Finance to find alternative places that the money can be spent before it is lost, and also to secure a commitment from Westminster not to take the money back if this is not possible.

6 Nov 2012: Well this scheme must now hold the record for the one with the most number of updates on this site without any work having taken place! However, in the Assembly today, the DRD Minister confirmed that, despite the current legal action, "the contractors have been instructed to carry out preliminary works, which include ground investigation, ecology works and service diversions.  That work is currently ongoing." This does NOT mean the scheme has begun, as the main scheme is the subject of the legal challenge, but it does mean that the preparatory works can be done. He also confirmed that the DRD is having to return £10m from their budget to the Executive for each month that the legal challenge delays the work. Of this, around £700,000 is an actual loss to the Executive due to "direct, quantified inflationary increases arising from month-on-month delays to the start of construction". The Deputy First Minister gave some relief to concerns that the money might not return to the A5 scheme when he said "the money for [the A5] has been ring-fenced by our Administration, so there is no threat to that". He also said that, as far as the legal challenge is concerned, "it is quite clear that the Department for Regional Development (DRD) is very focused on the need to proceed with [the A5 scheme].  I understand that there is some concern about the delay, but DRD is going to robustly defend that action and has instructed senior counsel to take it forward as quickly as possible". The Executive appears resolved on the matter.

24 Oct 2012: The DRD issued a notice on 30 May 2012 inviting tenders for archaeological investigations on the route of the A5WTC. This notice was subsequently cancelled in mid September due to "unacceptable tenders", although the delay caused by the current legal challenge may also have been a factor. Meanwhile, a preliminary court hearing into the legal challenge by the Alternative A5 Alliance (A5A) was held in the High Court, Belfast yesterday. In this short hearing submissions were made by both sides. The Alternative A5 Alliance's case seems to be that the Environmental impact assessment was not carried out properly. The barrister for the A5A says he plans to apply for "interim relief" that would prevent the DRD carrying out any work on the scheme. He claimed that the DRD have told him they intend to begin archaeological surveys on 29th October, although I have not been able to verify this. The A5A also want some kind of order that would limit the amount of legal costs they have to pay if they lose. The defence of the DRD, apart from presumably defending the environmental impact assessment, is to argue that the A5A was not an actual incorporated organisation, but rather a group of 18 individuals. Their barrister argued that they do not meet the legal definition of an "agreived person" and additionally that they could not enforce any court costs against such a group if the DRD won the case. So they seem to be trying to have the case thrown out on this basis. A full court hearing has been scheduled for November. It is starting to look as if this legal challenge is going to cause a considerable delay to the project, perhaps into next year. The delay is seeing £10m per month revert from the transport budget to the Executive for reallocation, which is very bad news. Let us hope that the case is decided as soon as possible.

2 Oct 2012: The DRD have stated on their web site that they received the legal challenge by the Alternative A5 Alliance on 10th September. It has since been revealed that the challenge is creating serious budget problems. Because the DRD's budget has been set by the Executive, the money for the A5 must be sent on the A5. This means that for every month the scheme is delayed beyond the start date (October) a total of £10m will have to be returned to the Executive, with no guarantee that it will be re-allocated back to transport. This will presumably also cause knock-on delays to later schemes such as the A6 Dungiven Bypass which are likely to be next in line after the A5. In addition, the DRD will also have to pay £750,000 in interest over and above the £10m, which will be an additional loss from the transport budget. It should be said that the Alternative A5 Alliance have the absolute legal right to mount a legal challenge, and as this is a democracy, their case must be given time. If the DRD's case for the A5 is robust and legally valid then it will survive the challenge. But let us hope that it is resolved quickly so that, either way, there is certainty and no unnecessary waste of money. For now, the scheme is on hold and the contractors and their employees must remain idle.

11 Sep 2012: This update is to bring two different news items. Firstly, the Ulster Farmers Union has called on the Land and Property Service (the government body carrying out the land acquisition for the DRD) to give higher levels of compensation to landowners. In Northern Ireland, farmers are given the market value of their land, whereas in Great Britain they are also given additional money to help the expense of relocating, etc. The UFU says this amounts to about an extra 10%. Secondly, the Alternative A5 Alliance, an umbrella group representing various landowners and environmentalists opposed to the A5, yesterday launched legal proceedings in an attempt to have the project stopped. This is likely to delay commencement, which had been due either this month or in October. It is not yet clear on what grounds the Alliance is challenging the scheme, and how much this will delay matters. Since the arguments against the scheme have already been aired at the Public Inquiry, the challengers may instead argue that the DRD has not followed the correct process. The DRD has yet to respond.

27 Aug 2012: Late last week it was announced that infrastructure firm Mouchel has gone into administration. This is relevant to the A5 since Mouchel has been the main consultant for the A5 project (ie, helping Roads Service progress the design). The firm relies heavily on government spending, which has fallen across the UK, and the company has now reached the point where it cannot continue in its current form. However, it seems that the firm is not going to disappear. Instead, its main creditors (three banks) will become its owners and it will continue to trade. This more recent news story confirms that it will continue to trade, and therefore the A5 scheme should not be affected. The contractors that will be constructing the A5 are not associated with Mouchel and are unaffected.

31 Jul 2012: Today the DRD published the long-awaited Inspector's Report (ie the outcome of the public inquiry), along with the expected Departmental Statement (Roads Service's response to the Inspector's recommendations). As widely expected, the scheme has been approved, with the Inspector being convinced that the DRD has made a good case for proceeding with the scheme. However, he made a number of recommendations, most of which relate to specific mitigation elements for specific residents and landowners. Roads Service has either accepted or deferred decisions on most of these, rejecting only a handful. The Inspector has recommended that the whole stretch from Newbuildings to Ballygawley go ahead. However, he has recommended that the final stretch from Ballygawley to Aughnacloy be postponed "until the details of the link with the N2 at the border with the Irish Republic have been clearly identified". In other words, until it is decided if and when the existing N2 on the Monaghan side of the border will be upgraded. In practice this could be many years away, so for all intents and purposes we can regard this stretch as abandoned. This is not entirely surprising, as it has by far the lowest traffic levels, and had its worst stretch at Tullyvar upgraded two years ago. Because of this decision, the existing roundabout at the Ballygawley end of the existing A4 dual-carriageway will be retained, and will not be removed as was previously proposed.

21 Jul 2012: Ten days ago the BBC published an article saying they understood that the proposed upgrade to the A5 will pass the Public Inquiry, although recommending delaying the short stretch from Ballygawley to the border at Aughnacloy until it's clear what is going to happen to the N2 in county Monaghan. Roads Service did not respond to this or offer any more details. However, the minutes of a Roads Service Board meeting held on 30 March, but just published, seem to confirm this. These minutes state that "the production of a supplementary vesting order will be required to acquire land needed to implement a number of the Inspector’s recommendations". This statement implies that by March 2012 it had already been decided that the scheme would be going ahead, as there would obviously be no need to produce a supplementary vesting order if the scheme was not going to be built. It also suggests that some of the inspector's recommendations involve additional elements, for example alternative access arrangements for landowners, or modifications to bits of the design. The feeling of certainty is echoed in a second comment: "it is hoped to complete the statutory orders process during the summer months and to commence construction in September 2012". I would expect some kind of official announcement in the very near future, as a September start date is only 6-10 weeks away. We already know that the two sections that will go ahead will be Newbuildings-Strabane and Omagh-Ballygawley, although the announcement will probably concern the entire proposal, not just these two stretches.

3 Jul 2012: In a Written Answer last week, the DRD Minister indicated that the long-awaited Inspector's Report will be published during the next four weeks. This is the outcome of the Public Inquiry, and it will indicate the Inspector's recommendations. At the same time, the DRD will publish a Departmental Statement which will set out its response to the Inspector's Report and how the DRD intends to address any concerns that were raised in it.

13 Mar 2012: The DRD Minister announced late last week that he has now been given the Inspector's Report into the public inquiry. A public inquiry has an independent inspector who writes up his report afterwards and presents it to the DRD. The DRD do not publish it straight away, but instead spend time digesting the recommendations and coming up with their proposed way ahead. This is published as a "Departmental Statement", along with the Inspector's report. This announcement therefore means that the Inspector has finished his report, but it will not be published just yet. The Minister indicated that he plans to publish the Departmental Statement in "early summer". This represents a bit of slippage on the timescale, since last year we had thought the Inspector's report would be given to DRD before the end of 2011 (see below update for 30 October 2011). This does not, however, jeopardise the intent to begin construction of the initial two sections of the A5 upgrade (subject to the Inspector's recommendations) in September or October 2012.

14 Feb 2012: Today brought some long-awaited clarity to the situation as the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson finally announced what is to happen to the money that had been allocated to the A5 scheme, in light of the postponement of Dublin's £400m contribution. We therefore do not have enough cash to build the whole scheme ourselves. Late last year there was a bit of an awkward falling-out in the Executive with the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson claiming the project was now not going to happen, and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness claiming that it was going ahead as planned. It seems that it has now been agreed to go ahead with the A5 scheme, but separate it into phases over a longer timescale. Therefore today it was announced that, subject to the outcome of the Public Inquiry, two smaller chunks of the A5 will be going ahead within the next four years. The press release from the First and Deputy First Ministers is more specific in terms of costs than the DRD press release, so I am going with the former. The two elements that are going ahead are:

  • The 14.3km stretch from Derry to north of Strabane, at a cost of £170m.
  • The 23.0km stretch from south of Omagh to Ballygawley, at a cost of £160m.

This amounts to just over 40% of the total length of the scheme, while the total cost of £330m is just under 40% of the total. The remaining 60% is still a live project - this announcement merely means that they will not begin in the next four years. Significantly there will be NO new bypasses of either Strabane or Omagh. It is a bit of a surprise that it is the stretch south of Omagh, rather than the Omagh Bypass, that has got the go-ahead. In 2006 Roads Service regarded a new bypass of Omagh as more important than the stretch south of Omagh, and traffic experiences more holdups going through Omagh than it does on the Ballygawley stretch. The section between Omagh and Strabane will also not be built, nor will the southernmost stretch from Ballygawley to Aughnacloy. This final stretch to Aughnacloy is of dubious justification, due to very low traffic levels, and indeed I am half expecting it to be rejected by the Public Inquiry the report of which is due to the published this spring, according to the DRD Minister today.

The DRD Minister indicated in his press release that these two schemes could get underway "in September or October 2012", which is very soon indeed. The contractors for these two stretches will be happy, but the contractor for the middle stretch (Sisk, Roadbridge, PT McWilliams, Fehily Timoney Gifford) will be disappointed that no work is to take place on that stretch in the next four years. In due course I will be creating two new pages for these smaller schemes.

12 Dec 2011: Many people are understandably keen to know what is going to happen about the A5 now, and indeed what will happen with other planned schemes in Northern Ireland. Last week the Minister for Regional Development answered questions about the A5 in the Assembly. He said that he would not be making any decisions until at least two things had been done. Firstly, he intends to wait until the Inspector's report into the Public Inquiries into the A5 is published, likely to be January 2012. He will then wait for this to be considered, any changes made to the plan and the new plan is costed to give a final budget estimate. Secondly, he intends to wait until after the DRD has had a discussion with the Irish Department of Transport to decide exactly how the funding is going to work now, a meeting that is also expected in January 2012. On this matter he said "That process will, undoubtedly, affect the funding that is available to my Department and, therefore, potentially, delivery of the strategic roads programme." Thirdly he needs to wait until it is known just how much of Stormont's money for the A5 is going to be reallocated back to the DRD. Since the money was designated specifically for the A5, not roads in general, it needs to go back to the source before being re-allocated to departments. In other words, we cannot assume yet that the money will be made available for other road schemes. Of these three reasons, it is the latter two which are key. While it is important to know the final budget figure, it is hardly going to be so divergent from the current estimates that a decision on construction has to be held off until then. So the main reason for the delay is that the DRD simply does not know how much money it will have either from Stormont or from the Irish government for the next few years. Until these questions are settled, things will probably continue in limbo much as they are now.

The only other news on the scheme is confirmation in a Written Answer that the contracts with the contractors were in two stages: the first was design, and the second was build. The three sections of the A5 will only progress to the "build" phase in the event of the money being available and the road getting the legal go-ahead. Therefore, while it is a massive blow to the industry, no compensation will be due to them.

12 Nov 2011: Yesterday, following a meeting between the Irish Taoiseach and the First and Deputy First Ministers, it was announced that Dublin now WILL be providing some funding for the scheme, abeit €50m/£42m (around 10% of the amount previously announced) with half paid in 2015 and half in 2016. Full details will be revealed on Friday 18th, when there is a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. The Deputy First Minister was quoted on UTV as saying "I think it's fair to say it's  back on track again". I would advise taking this with a large pinch of salt, however. Before last Wednesday's announcement, the whole scheme was due to get underway next year. Even with today's revelation, there seems little prospect of any significant work being underway even by 2016. £42m is barely enough to build 5% of the road, and Stormont could certainly not stump up the remaing 95% in that timeframe. I would see this, instead, as a token gesture by Dublin in the face of political pressure to prove that they remain committed to the scheme. So what will happen next? If the scheme does indeed proceed as designed, the only way any work could get underway in the next 5 years + would be to build smaller, isolated sections as separate schemes. The most arguable sections are: the bit bypassing Omagh; and an upgrade of the stretch from Strabane to L'Derry, both of which were live proposals before the main A5 scheme was even thought of. Perhaps there will be more details on Friday, but either way I think it's fair to say that the scheme is now of a fundamentally different nature.

9 Nov 2011: Well, I find myself adding yet another update on this project - but this time it is bad news for the scheme. The Irish government has said that they cannot afford to provide the £400m funding in the period up to 2016 - the official confirmation of which is due tomorrow. Since Stormont cannot possibly afford the whole cost of the scheme, this effectively means the project will be put on ice until at least 2016. Contrary to some what some headlines have said, the Irish government has said that it remains "politically" committed to the scheme, so the problem is one of current affordability. A spokesperson said "The [Irish] Government remains politically committed to this project, however - given the tight fiscal constraints - roads investment will be focused on maintaining existing roads, rather than developing new routes. It is therefore not anticipated that significant resources will be available for this project over the medium term." In other words, the scheme is still a live plan and could still happen - just not in the foreseeable future. My comment at the end of October that the DRD Minister was planning to re-profile the timing of the A5 scheme has been confirmed by Sammy Wilson who today said that "we asked them [the Irish government] to consider a possible re-profiling of the project. However, given the current fiscal environment within Republic of Ireland, Dublin Ministers indicated that the greater priority was funding urgent schemes within their jurisdiction." This is quite understandable, from an objective standpoint. The DRD Minister Danny Kennedy said "This news is extremely disappointing with major implications for the A5 and A8 schemes. This is a commitment of the Irish Government, confirmed at the North South Ministerial Council. Clearly it will be a major item for discussion at the NSMC plenary". Needless to say, the decision has been met with uproar in Donegal and also in Tyrone, the two areas which would most have benefitted. The money allocated by the Stormont Executive could now be re-allocated, and not all of it may come back to the DRD. But if it does, I would expect to see some movement on the A6 dualling schemes and the A2 at Greenisland, both of which were postponed to allow the A5 to proceed. Finally, although it may well have been discussed at the time, it is also worth clarifying that the text of the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement contains no reference to the A5 or any other road scheme.

30 Oct 2011: In July  the Minister indicated that he might be able to outline his position on the A5 "in or around October" (see below update 4 July). Since the Minister's own party made a reappraisal of the A5 one of its manifesto pledges last May, the absence of such a statement has created uncertainty for both supporters and opponents of the scheme. However, in a Question for Written Answer in the Assembly two weeks ago, the Minister indicated that he would now not be making a statement on the subject until "early 2012", ie after the Inspector of the four Public Inquiries (held in May and June) has reported back. Roads Service expects to get the reports before the end of 2011, but will not make them public at that time as they will take time to formulate their response before publishing. Reading between the lines of recent events, it seems likely to me that the Minister will go ahead with the A5 scheme, but perhaps with a different timetable.
For those interested, one of these Questions for Written Answer from a week ago contains a detailed breakdown of current traffic levels at various locations on the A5, showing a wide range from 6,503 per day south of Ballygawley to 21,595 on the Omagh Throughpass. 18,000 is generally considered the maximum that a single-carriageway road can safely accomodate.
Finally, the same Questions for Written Answer page shows when the Irish contribution of £400m to the A5/A8 schemes are currently planned to be made, showing a heavy skew towards 2014-16, ie when the road is planned to be nearing completion which may also explain why the Irish government doesn't seem to regard it has a big deal right now, despite the economic meltdown:

2009/10 - £8m
2010/11 - £0m
2011/12 - £14m
2012/13 - £0m
2013/14 - £10m
2014/15 - £250m
2015/16 - £118m

8 Oct 2011: There continues to be slight uncertainty about when exactly the Minister plans to press ahead with this scheme. Until now the official position has been as described in July: "Roads Service has currently been allocated a sizeable capital spend of nearly £1.2 billion over the four year Budget period. However, two-thirds of this, almost £800 million, is presently allocated to two major road schemes, [the A5 and A8]. This leaves little for other schemes. Upgrades of the A32, to improve access to the new hospital at Enniskillen, are anticipated to start this year.... The budget does not allow for any other major works to start until 2014/15 when over £60 million is available." There is now evidence that he may be planning to "reprofile" it rather than cancel it. This basically means spreading the project out over a longer timescale, hence reducing the amount of money that is needed each year. This would allow a bit more money to be made available for other projects in each of the next few years. The minutes of a meeting in July (just published) contains the first clue: "[Head of Roads Service Geoff Allister] Geoff said that Roads Service would continue with development work, including progression through the statutory processes, so that possible schemes could be “parked” at an appropriate point, to be re- activated should finance become available." The second clue came this week when the Minister announced that the had brought forward plans to re-lay the Belfast-Derry railway line to 2012/13. Although the press release doesn't say where the £27m needed initially is coming from, the BBC article quotes a Sinn Fein MLA claiming that the money is being taken from the A5 budget. This could only happen through a form of reprofiling such as outlined above. But at this point there is no indication that Danny Kennedy is planning to axe the A5 upgrade.

It has also been revealed that, to date, £38m has been spent on this project of which £29.8m has been spent on the project consultants (those doing the land surveys and detailed design). The £38m figure represents 4.5% of the total estimated project cost, and while it is a very large sum in absolute terms, is not surprising or excessive for a project of this scale. It does, however, serve to illustrate how reprofiling the scheme could lead to significant benefits for other projects.

For those interested, Roads Service has now put the complete transcripts of the two-month public inquiry onto their web site. The inquiries were held during May and June. It is also confirmed that the proposed Strabane-Lifford Link Road will be going ahead as part of the A5 scheme - as evidenced by the Direction Order which was published on 19 July 2011.

4 Jul 2011: As we know, the "Roads" Minister has indicated that he will consider the future of this scheme only once the public inquiry has finished an the Inspector has submitted his report. In a question-and-answer session in Stormont two weeks ago he said that "my expectation is that I will have the report of the public inquiry in the early autumn" and went on to say that "it may be possible to outline things [his response to the report] in or around October." Although this is couched in vague terms, it at least gives us some idea when we might know his thoughts on progressing the scheme. Two weeks ago some very strongly worded comments were made in Stormont by the deputy First Minister: "There is no question about the road. However, questions remain about the outcome of the inquiry, about whatever discussions officials will have in the aftermath of the inquiry and about how they take forward the project. The project is very far advanced. Contractors have been informed that they have the tenders for three stages of the road. I think that the project is unstoppable. It is now a matter of how it is taken forward to try to minimise the costs to our Administrations, North and South." While he does acknowledge that there is a current Public Inquiry, I feel it is inappropriate for such a senior government figure to describe a scheme that is the subject of an ongoing public inquiry as "unstoppable". Such language undermines the legitimacy of the Inquiry and will create an impression that it is merely a rubber-stamp with no actual purpose, a box-ticking exercise that must be completed before we can move on. Public Inquiries are a vital part of the democratic process, and on this site I always encourage as many people as possible to participate. Unless a public inquiry carries the real possibility of leading to a recommendation that all or part of a scheme not go ahead, then it is a pointless exercise.

5 Jun 2011: As the Public Inquiries continue (the Section 2 one being due to begin tomorrow), there is at last some certainty from the new leadership in Dublin. The Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has somewhat surprisingly publicly reaffirmed his committment to the Irish contribution of £400m. He said: "The previous government had committed to put money in there and we will honour that commitment". However this certainty has been replaced by much more uncertainty from the new Roads Minister Danny Kennedy who has signalled that he will review the scheme, but that he will do so only once the public inquiry has been completed and the inspector has submitted his report (likely to be some months away). Danny Kennedy is from the Ulster Unionist Party which is much cooler on this scheme than the previous Minister Conor Murphy who is a member of Sinn Féin. The media also quote Roads Service as saying that design work on the scheme has already cost £35m – although this is hardly surprising given how advanced the scheme is. In recent months we were all wondering whether events in Dublin would kill this scheme, but we are now suddenly in the situation where it is events in Belfast that will decide it.

14 May 2011: The first of the four public inquiries began on 9th May in Omagh. This one is looking at the entire scheme and its rationale. I don't intend to provide a blow-by-blow account of the inquiry on this site, but this news story from the Irish Times yesterday provides a useful summary of the case against the road being made by the environmental lobby using the umbrella term "PlanBetter". The article also claims that Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that the planners of the A5 should "look at making savings", although I can't find any independent verification of this. Meanwhile, this news  story from the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday sets out Roads Service's case. Despite Enda Kenny's purported comments, there is still no indication that the Irish government intends to withdraw its committment to funding the scheme as made as part of the St Andrew's Agreement. On Friday the d'Hondt system of sharing Ministries in the newly convened Northern Ireland Assembly resulted in the Department for Regional Development Ministry (which includes roads) falling to the Ulster Unionist Party (previously it was held by Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy who has championed this scheme). The UUP leader Tom Elliott is known to be against this scheme, so this may create some interesting dynamics as this viewpoint clashes with others in the coming months. But this essentially means that the UUP will now decide the direction of transport in Northern Ireland.

25 Apr 2011: A series of pre-inquiry meetings were held between 6th and 11th April which were to "outline procedural matters for the inquiries". We now know that there will be four separate public inquiries, starting follows:

  • STRATEGIC (probably considering the overall scheme and its rationale) - starting 9th May 2011 at 10.30 am in the Mellon Country Hotel, near Omagh.
  • SECTION 1 (New Buildings to Sion Mills) - starting 23rd May 2011 at 10.30 am in the Fir Trees Hotel, Strabane.
  • SECTION 2 (Sion Mills to south of Omagh) - starting 6th June 2011 at 10.30 am in the Mellon Country Hotel, near Omagh.
  • SECTION 3 (South of Omagh to Aughnacloy) - starting 20th June 2011 at 10.30 am in Kelly's Inn, Garvaghey, Ballygawley.

If recent debate is anything to go by, these are likely to be more impassioned public inquiries than we have been used to in recent years. Roads Service seem to be well aware of this, since they have set aside almost two months for the inquiries. Meanwhile the scheme appears to have become a key election issue, with the UUP manifesto (for example) including a committment to re-thinking this scheme ("An urgent review of the decision to commit over 50% of DRD’s next budget to a road from Donegal to Dublin. We advocate a refocusing on the need to commission the A2 project at Greenisland, rather than the A5 Western Transport Corridor") while the Sinn Fein manifesto includes a committment to press ahead with the scheme ("to address regional inequalities in infrastructure – particularly through the A5 Aughnacloy to Derry major road scheme").

Of all Roads Service schemes, this scheme currently has the highest priority. There is still nothing to concrete to suggest that the Republic of Ireland's financial contribution will not bo forthcoming, so barring a major change in the balance at Stormont the scheme still looks likely to proceed.

14 Feb 2011: The Public Inquiry has now been officially announced. The statement does not give a start date, other than to say that it will probably be in May 2011. The Minister also said that "because of the length of the project and the extent of the interest, it has been decided that the A5 Public Inquiry will be held at a number of locations along the route". There have been over 2000 objections to the scheme so it seems likely that the Inquiry will have to sit for an extended period of time.

10 Feb 2011: According to a written answer two weeks ago, the Public Inquiry into this scheme is anticipated to take place in May/June this year, which is only four months away. The answer also states that the benefit/cost ratio of the scheme is estimated to be 1.74. This ratio is a measure of how the economic benefits of the road compare to the costs. Anything above 1.0 is positive. 1.74 is not the highest there is (the A6 scheme from Dungiven to Londonderry is around 2.31) but equally some other schemes have a lower value (the A2 at Greenisland is around 1.34). A week ago the BBC reported that the number of objections to the project may have been exaggerated, since it has been discovered that "scores of people have complained that they did not send objecting letters to Roads Service receivedin their name".

14 Jan 2011: The DRD has released its draft budget for the period 2011-2015. This shows that the A5 and A8 schemes are being progressed at all costs - all other schemes (with the exception of the Cherrymount Link in Enniskillen) have been put on hold until at least 2015 in order to ensure there is sufficient money for the A5 and A8. Even so, the budget assumes that the £400m contribution from the Irish government comes through (see previous update). The decision to press ahead with the A5 and A8 will certainly provoke debate because (a) a number of smaller schemes are being sacrificed to allow the A5 and A8 to proceed (b) the Irish government contribution carries a high risk of withdrawal (c) the A5 is one of the most controversial in recent years.

12 Dec 2010: In November there appeared to be renewed certainty about the Irish contribution to this scheme when the Irish government released its budget committing to the scheme. However, this certainty has unravelled again in the past week with an indication that the Irish Labour party may pull out of the agreement if it gains power in the next General Election (due on or before 14 July 2011). While there is, of course, the complication that this funding was part of the St Andrew's Agreement, their position nevertheless seems clear: "At the present time, we are experiencing savage cutbacks in education, health and social welfare. Giving Northern Ireland £400million towards its roads is not a priority for the Labour Party. ... We are no longer in a position to fund the section of the [Dublin-Derry] road in the south so how could we fund the northern section?" [Irish News 9 Dec 2010] . They are not saying they will definitely pull out of the scheme, but are saying that it is an option. If the Irish funding (which represents 47% of the total cost) is withdrawn it does not necessarily scupper the plan, but it may affect its timescale, whether it all proceeds at once and whether or not their is a knock-on effect on other schemes in Northern Ireland.

25 Nov 2010: With the economic crisis in the Republic of Ireland reaching crunch point yesterday, those involved in this scheme eagerly waited news of what would happen to Dublin's £400m contribution to this scheme. The answer came in the last line of this press release from the Irish Dept of Transport yesterday. €20m of the cost has been allocated from existing funds in 2011 and 2012, while the the bulk of the cost (presumably the bulk of the £400m) will be met from the Capital Reserve Fund (CRF). Thanks to a site visitor who e-mailed me with the details, I can state that the CRF was first mentioned in the Capital Expenditure Review of July 2010 which said: "The revised Public Capital Programme also incorporates a new ‘Capital Reserve Fund’. This Fund will be used to finance emerging investment priorities which may arise over the medium term. The Fund will only be drawn upon in circumstances where economic developments present emerging opportunities for investments which produce demonstrable net benefits to the State." In other words, the fund has just been announced and probably does not currently exist. Presumably the intention is to create the fund by 2013, but where the money to go into the fund will come from is not stated. So I think we are no clearer about the security of the Irish contribution. Even with a 40% cut in capital funding, Roads Service probably would have sufficient funds to build the entire scheme itself, but this would come at the cost of postponing almost every other scheme in the next five years. In other news, transport commentator Christian Wolmar held a talk in Ballygawley yesterday in which, according to the BBC, he criticised the A5WTC scheme in terms of (a) its cost and (b) its environmental impact. However, the BBC report does not quote him speaking in relation to the safety aspects of the scheme - reducing deaths and serious injuries on the A5 is Roads Service's primary justification for the scheme. It has been suggested that a 2+1 upgrade of the existing road would be a better option. This, however, would be unlikely to have a significant impact on fatalities as most of the causes of accidents would remain (eg right-turns, large number of private accesses, lack of a central safety barrier, inconsistent road geometry, high speed differentials at junctions etc) and would also require significant demolition of homes.

17 Nov 2010: Roads Service held the "Pre-Orders Exhibition" from 2-5 Nov 2010. This is basically to set out the final, final design. To their credit, the planners have actually made a significant number of changes to the proposed route after the previous round of public exhibitions. Detailed maps of the entire finalised route can be downloaded here. Significantly, the design also shows junction layouts for the first time which will allow me (when time permits) to create a junction strip map. The route features five at-grade roundabouts (one at the southern terminus in Aughnacloy, one with the A4 at Ballygawley, one in Strabane where the road turns at 90° and two at the northern terminus at Newbuildings). The rest are a mixture of compact grade-separated junctions and full-spec junctions such as on the A32 Dromore Road in Omagh which is planned as a full-scale roundabout interchange. The maps also contain junction numbers, but these may be merely labels for the diagrams rather than an indication that the finished road will have junction numbers like motorways do. The maps also show that the recently-completed roundabout at Ballygawley is to be demolished and the A4 dual-carriageway extended by 1km to meet the line of the upgraded A5. Despite significant economic woes south of the border, the Republic of Ireland agreed a payment schedule on 20 October for the £400m Dublin is to contribute to the project, ie just under 50% of the cost. This scheme has attracted opposition that local road building has not seen since the proposal to run a road through Lagan Valley Regional Park was axed twenty years ago. This is being led by the Ulster Unionist Party, which has essentially come out against the proposals. Opposition to the scheme appears to be threefold: (a) the damage to farmland (b) the environmental impact of a major new road and (c) the high cost of the scheme. At the same time, this tragedy a week ago illustrates why something needs to be done with this road. Nevertheless, the scheme is being rapidly progressed and the draft statutory orders were published a few days ago. You can download them from here - although there are literally hundreds of files including details maps of the land to be vested. The "Roads" Minister confirmed last week that the public inquiry is still planned for "mid 2011" with construction to begin "2012-13".

17 Aug 2010: During the most recent round of public consultations a substantial number of landowners wished to discuss alternatives to the Preferred Route, which was announced last summer. Roads Service took down these suggestions and has recently completed a study into each of them, available here. In 12 cases they have recommended that the suggested alternatives be adopted, rather than the preferred route. In 20 further cases, the alternatives have not been adopted. The document briefly explains why in each case. The document once again rejects the possibility of an online upgrade, as the reasons for its objection outlined in early 2009. It should also be stated that there is a sizeable level of local opposition to the entire scheme, not only from farmers but other stakeholders as well. Last week a group of travelling environmentalists set up a temporary camp called "Climate Camp" near Victoria Bridge to protest against the scheme. A group referring to itself as the "Alternative A5 Alliance" has also been set up to campaign for the project to be scrapped and replaced by a reinstatement of the former railway line. However it is difficult to judge just how much in favour or in opposition the general public in Tyrone are. The Belfast Telegraph last week published a piece setting out arguments both for and against the new road.

23 Jan 2010: In the Assembly on 18th January, the deputy First Minister reported on a meeting held by the North-South Ministerial Council which discussed the A5. He reported that the Irish government made a payment of €9 million in December, which represents a small initial amount of the £400m that they have committed to the scheme. The Irish government also re-committed themselves to the scheme, which the deputy First Minister described as important, "in view of the debate on the economic situation North and South". He also recognised that some landowners are opposing the scheme for various reasons, but he has chosen to take quite a strong stance on this when he said "let nobody be in any doubt whatsoever that [the A5 and A8 schemes] will go ahead. They are vital for us if we are to develop the economy and a road infrastructure that will allow us to attract inward investment."

14 Dec 2009: Last week the DRD officially announced the names of the three contractors that have been appointed to undertake the detailed design and construction of the three phases. The final list is as follows, confirming that the details publicised a month ago (see below) was correct:

  • Section 1 (northern part) - Balfour Beatty/BAM/FP McCann Joint Venture
  • Section 2 (central part) - Roadbridge/Sisk/PT McWilliam Joint Venture
  • Section 3 (southern part) - Graham/Farrans Joint Venture

16 Nov 2009: In the Assembly today, the Minister of Regional Development reaffirmed that both he and his Southern counterparts are committed to this scheme, saying "If elected representatives continue to question it, they may create a degree of uncertainty about the project. On every occasion that we have been asked about it, the commitment from the authorities, North and South, has been restated and confirmed". However, while the political will is definitely there, I believe there is still a genuine question mark in the current financial climate over whether or not the high level of funding required will be available in time to meet the tight construction timetable. In any case, the contracts for construction are due to be announce soon, but the information I have says that the appointed contractors will be as follows (unverified and subject to change):

  • Section 1 (northern part) - F.P.McCann/Balfour Beatty/BAM consortium
  • Section 2 (central part) - Roadbridge/Sisk/ PT McWilliams consortium
  • Section 3 (southern part) - Farrans /Grahams JV

This information is to be confirmed by the end of November.

2 Nov 2009: Roads Service have given more details of the timescale for the scheme over the next few years:

  • "An Emerging Specimen Design will be presented to the public in summer 2010.
  • The Statutory Orders will be published in late 2010 and will be examined at a public inquiry in 2011."
  • Construction is still anticipated to begin in 2012, subject to the public inquiry.

This assumes that the funding is available at the time of construction. However, to date, the Republic of Ireland has given no indication that their contribution will not be forthcoming despite the uncertain financial climate.

16 August 2009: A more detailed version of the preferred route is now available on the "interactive map" on the official A5 web site here. A few other comments can be made since the previous update. Firstly, a detailed look at the alignment of the road past Strabane strongly suggests that the junction between the A5 and the N14/N15 to county Donegal may be an at-grade roundabout. This is because the A5 appears to take a very steep corner here, much too steep for a flowing road. Of course it is also possible that the junction could take the form of a trumpet interchange with the southern end of the A5 flowing directly onto the N14, while the northern part of the A5 is the joining road. This would be a much better option, as major roads like the A1 have been plagued for years by isolated roundabouts such as the one at Hillsborough which cause unnecessary congestion. Michelle Greer, who is the project manager for the central portion of the A5 project, wrote to me to clarify the standard of junctions. She said "we are designing the road to Category 6 under the DMRB (Design Manual for Roads & Bridges... This means that at the lower end of that category we could end up with at-grade junctions (ie roundabouts) and left in/left out junctions along its length. However it also allows for grade separation of junctions... it is not yet a given that all major junctions will be grade separated." This is useful clarification and relevant to the Strabane question. Aso, a site visitor reported that they were told at the public exhibition that the A5 passes quite close to Omagh in order to encourage as much traffic as possible off the local road network and onto the new road. Finally, the cost has now been estimated as £844m. This is at the upper end of the £650m-£850m estimate made back in November 2008, and means that the Irish government's contribution of £400m will pay for less than half the cost of the scheme, with Roads Service left to find £444m to fund it.

23 July 2009: The preferred route was announced on Tuesday, as expected, and was generally in line with what we knew from Noel Dempsey's leak last week. Click here for a PDF of the route. Notable elements of the plan include the fact that the road will start south of Newbuildings, with a single-carriageway bypass of Newbuildings leading into Derry itself. This decision will both reduce disruption to property in the south of the city, and suggests that the concept of providing links to the A2 west of the city and the A6 east of the city may proceed. At Strabane, the decision has been made to go west of the town, between the town and the river. The northern part of this route seems to run either on or close to the existing Strabane Bypass, while the southern part seems to take an offline route further west than the Bypass. The road takes an almost entirely offline route from there all the way to Aughnacloy, which will leave the current road largely intact. It bypasses Newtownstewart to the west (eliminating the need for two more bridges on the existing Newtownstewart Bypass). The road swings by Omagh on the west side, choosing one of the options that is closer to the town. The route crosses the A4 west of the existing (and new) Ballygawley roundabouts, does not utilise the current realignment work at Tullyvar and finally bypasses Aughnacloy on the eastern side to connect with the N2 in county Monaghan. All told, the proposed route seems fair enough. If it happens (which will be dependant on money) it will be a very impressive scheme with the potential to reduce journey times on the entire route by 20 minutes.

14 July 2009: A week before it was due to be announced, Irish Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, has accidentally leaked the preferred route of the scheme via a photograph on his web site! The picture is not very clear, but it is possible to discern the route (thick black line) against the current A5 (thin red line). The route appears to include the following elements:

  • Close to or on the current A5 alignment from Newbuildings to Strabane
  • Round the west side of Strabane
  • Generally offline to the west of the current A5 between Strabane and Omagh
  • Round the west of Omagh, but relatively close to the town
  • Offline quite far to the south-west of the current A5 from Omagh to Ballygawley
  • Round the eastern side of Aughnacloy.

This information is due to be publicly announced by Conor Murphy on 21st July in Omagh. With thanks to Kieran4003 who spotted this picture.

12 July 2009: Following the forthcoming announcement of the preferred route for the scheme (21 July) Roads Service and Mouchel (the consultants) will be holding public exhibitions as follows:

  • Mon 27 July 2009: Silverbirch Hotel, Omagh 12pm - 9pm
  • Tue 28 July 2009: Fir Trees Hotel, Strabane 12pm - 9pm
  • Wed 29 July 2009: Everglades Hotel, Londonderry 12pm - 9pm
  • Thu 30 July 2009: St Ciaran's College, Ballygawley 12pm - 9pm

As always, I would strongly encourage all those with an interest in the scheme to turn up at one of these events as they are the main way to get your views heard.

23 June 2009: The word on the street is that the preferred route for this scheme will be announced in Omagh on 21st July 2009. This is when we will finally know where Roads Service plan to put the road (subject to the public inquiry).

23 May 2009: The Regional Development Minister gave an update on the scheme to the Assembly two weeks ago. He said that the selection of preferred route would be completed in "mid 2009", with the draft statutory orders (legal papers required to progress the project) published "by late 2010". He also said that the procurement process was now underway - divided into three simultaneous phases:

  • Contract 1 - 25km from New Buildings to south of Strabane, including ca. 4 major junctions
  • Contract 2 - 34km from south of Strabane to south of Omagh, including ca. 4 major junctions
  • Contract 3 - 36km from south of Omagh to Aughnacloy, including ca. 3 major junctions

As this project is dependant on £400m from the Republic of Ireland, there is public concern that in the current Recession the Republic may withdraw this promise. However the Minister said that he had been "very forcefully assured... that funding will be forthcoming", and that he has been assured of this a number of times by various people including the Taoiseach.

6 March 2009: The public consultations happened in February as planned, and the response was described as "phenomenal" and "positive". Lots of PDF files outlining the current position and detailed maps of the four route options now being considered can be downloaded from here. These documents suggest that the preferred route will be announced in the summer of 2009, a final accouncement in Autumn 2010, public inquiry perhaps in 2011 with construction perhaps in the period 2012-2015. This is an ambitious timetable, and will be subject to the availability of finance when the time comes. The confirmation that the scheme will have a continuous central reservation is excellent news, and the junction locations seem very appropriate. The only slight disappointment is that there will just be 1 metre hard strips, rather than full hard shoulders. Hard shoulders are an important safety feature since they allow broken down motorists to get their vehicle fully clear of the fast moving traffic, although they do admittedly add several metres to the road width. Finally, one of the members of the A5WTC team e-mailed me to confirm that the estimated cost of the scheme remains £650-£850m. The £500m-£600m mentioned in February's update is merely the construction cost, ie not including land, fees etc. With thanks to that person for the clarification.

12 Feb 2009: Roads Service have announced that the next round of public constulations will take place in mid February. This is part of the process of selecting the actual route within the route corridor announced in November last year. All interested parties should be encouraged to attend these events as this is one of the key opportunities to have your opinions heard. The events are taking place as follows:

  • Omagh: Tuesday 17 February 2009, 12pm-9pm, Silverbirch Hotel, Gortin Road
  • Ballygawley: Wednesday 18 February 2009, 12pm-9pm, Smyth Memorial Hall, Church Street

  • Strabane: Tuesday 24 February 2009, 12pm-9pm, Fir Trees Hotel

  • Derry: Wednesday 25 February 2009, 12pm-9pm, Everglades Hotel

In addition, notice of the tender for the actual construction has appeared on the Roads Service web site. The tender is due to be released this month and it confirms that the project will be carried out as three similarly sized, but separate, tenders. Operators will only be allowed to tender for two of these. This was widely anticipated as the project is much larger than any other single road project in Northern Ireland's history. The information gives the estimated value of the scheme as £500m-600m, substantially less than the figure of £650m-850m quoted in last November's initial report. Despite the economic downturn on both sides of the border, the DRD is adamant that this project will proceed as planned.

10 Nov 2008: The next phase of the project has been completed. Having looked in the general area of the A5 (an area up to 15km wide) the team have now narrowed down the route of the dual-carriageway to a much narrower area, which ranges in width from 500 metres to about 3km. This area is known as the "preferred corridor" and is an essential step because the study area is so huge that simply drawing a line on the map is not possible. You can see the preferred corridor on the interactive map here (the area bordered by the dotted red line). Work has now begun on drawing various route options within this preferred corridor, and it is anticipated that these options will be on display at a public consultation in February or March 2009. A description of the route is given above, and you can read the very detailed initial report on the A5 project web site www.a5wtc.com. This report has estimated the cost at £650m-£850m, considerably more than originally estimated (£540m-£660m). Although the economic situation is now dire, putting question marks in people's heads over the viability of either Stormont or Dublin being able to afford this very expensive road, the Regional Development Minister is insisting that it will go ahead and that it is is on schedule.

28 Apr 2008: The document "Investment Delivery Plan for Roads", released in 2008, includes this scheme in the "preparation pool" of schemes likely to proceed by 2013. Given the enormous size of the project, it is hard to see work on all parts of the route proceeding simultaneously, but we shall see. Also, an official web site has been set up for the scheme at www.a5wtc.com. Information on the site is still relatively scarce, but that is due to the fact that the scheme is at an early stage and not many decisions have been made at this point.

16 Dec 2007: According to the Strabane Chronicle last month, the timescale for the first phases of the project are that the general route corridor will be announced at the end of 2008. This is a general path, perhaps a mile or so wide, that determines things like which sides of major towns the route will go but is not the specific route. Apparently the exact "preferred" route will be announced in mid 2009. The preferred route is, of course, then subject to public inquiry. Conor Murphy, Regional Development Minister, is quoted as saying in the article that the funding for the scheme has been "ring fenced" and that it will be "fast tracked". It's unclear what this actually means in terms of the normal processes.

Note on Costs

In 2007 the Irish government offered £400m to the Northern Ireland Executive to be used for the upgrade of the A5 between the Irish border near Aughnacloy and Londonderry, and the A8 between Newtownabbey and Larne. In July 2007 the Executive accepted the funding. In November 2007 the Executive announced that they would proceed with both schemes at a total cost of £660m. At the time of the preferred route corridor announcement of November 2008 the cost of the A5 scheme alone was given as between £650m and £850m, depending on whether or not the junctions were grade separated (ie flyovers). In a Written Answer in November 2009, the Minister said that the total cost of all three components of the scheme taken separately was £1.11 billion, but insisted that the cost of the combined scheme was still in the region £650m to £850m. As of January 2011 the total cost for the A5 scheme alone is being given as £844m.

Note that in 2004, before the Irish had made their offer, a UK study estimated the cost of this scheme as between £346m and £480m depending on the ambitiousness of the design. Land and property prices will have risen since then, but the figures seem to be in the same ballpark.