A5 Dualling Londonderry to Aughnacloy

("Western Transport Corridor" or A5WTC)


Long-term plan (to be constructed in phases)
To upgrade the entire A5 to dual-carriageway from the Irish border near Aughnacloy, via Omagh and Strabane, to Derry.
Total Length
93.6 km / 58.2 miles

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 by the end of 2012.
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
Oct 2014 - Public consultation on Tully Bog Habitats Directive assessment

16 Feb 2016 - Amended Environmental Statement published and 6 week consultation began

18 Apr 2016 - Revised Summary of Environmental Statement published for 6 weeks consultation

25 Aug 2016 - Legal challenge received (application for a judicial review)

4 Oct 2016 - Public inquiry began
30 Nov 2016 - Legal challenge rejected by judge

28 Nov 2017 - Scheme given go ahead by DFI, and public inquiry report published

22 Dec 2017 - Third legal challenge received
Dec 2018 - DFI concedes legal challenge. Judge quashes decision to proceed with scheme.

18 Feb 2020 - Third public inquiry began (into additional environmental documents), later adjourned
16 May 2023 - Third public inquiry to be re-opened
2024 - Possible start of construction of Phase 1A Newbuildings to North of Strabane (as of Mar 2023)


£1.609bn as of Nov 2022 (changed from £1134m as of Dec 2019; £1049m as of Oct 2016; £844m as of Aug 2009; £650m - £850m as of Nov 2008; £560m as of 2007)
---£207m for Newbuildings to N of Strabane (as of 2019 changed from £150m as of Oct 2016)

---£499m for N of Strabane to S of Omagh (as of 2019 changed from £495m as of Oct 2016)
---£270m for S of Omagh to Ballygawley (as of 2019 changed from £225m as of Mar 2016; changed from £160m as of Feb 2012)

---£158m for Ballygawley to border Aughnacloy (as of 2019 changed from £107m as of Oct 2016)

Irish government was to have contributed £400m to this scheme and the A8 upgrade
However, this was then reduced to £50m plus £25m in each of 2017, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 = £200m.

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


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 (but hopelessly out of date, as of Jan 2016)

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 to track construction of each phase. Hence you can visit:

  1. A5 dualling Londonderry to North of Strabane - on this site
  2. A5 dualling South of 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.


The most detailed route maps are downloadable from the A5WTC site, and scrolling down to the bottom and looking for the 2016 Brochures. 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 a 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.


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)

B49 Berryhill Road

B?? (current A5)

into Strabane

2.9 km / 1.8 miles

Junction 4 / 5:

Lifford Road / Railway Street
(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:

Bradley Way
(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:

N14/N15 link

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)

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:


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:



B46 Moylagh Road

into Seskinore

Augherpoint Road

B46 Moylagh Road
14.6 km / 9.1 miles

Junction 15:


A4 Annaghilla Road

towards Enniskillen

Tullybryan Road

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 East

Caledon Road

into Aughnacloy)

A28 Caledon Road

towards Armagh


1 lane each way – 1.5 km / 0.9 miles


Continues as N2 to Dublin



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 commitment remained, even after the major funding cutbacks announced by Dublin in November 2010 - see the update below on 25 November 2010 for more information - but it was withdrawn on 10 November 2011. Since then, the Irish government has provided smaller sums in installments (£50m circa 2013, plus £25m in each of 2017, 18 and 19). As of 2022, delays to the project means that only £75m has been reported to have been paid in practice. 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.


22 Mar 2023: The Planning Appeals Commission announced last week that the public inquiry that was adjourned in 2020 will be re-convened on 15 May 2023, a little later than I'd predicted. The inquiry will take place in two stages as follows:

  • 15–19 May 2023 in Strule Arts Centre, Omagh. This week will focus on the scheme on its own terms, examining the environmental statement, the habitats reports and the proposed supplementary vesting order.
  • 30 May – 2 June 2023 in Omagh Enterprise Centre. This week will focus on the wider strategic issues, such as the justification for the scheme, alternatives, funding and phasing.

Normally public inquiries only focus on the first of these elements. This inquiry is unusual as it is being carried out by the Planning Appeals Commission and it was they who decided back in 2020 that they would permit discussion and examination of the strategic issues around the scheme as well. I would encourage all those with an interest in the scheme to aim to attend the inquiry and express their views. DFI had been hoping that Phase 1 (Newbuildings to north of Strabane) could get underways in late 2023 subject to a successful public inquiry outcome. However I no longer think this is realistic as the PAC will need time to consider the submissions and prepare a report. Sometime in 2024 seems more likely. My own views on the future of this project are already on record - see update for 9 November 2022 below.

25 Jan 2023: DFI has now announced a further public consultation into revised documents on the A5. They are available here. The reason for the new consultation is that these documents contain drawings of the entire scheme plus additional "cross section" diagrams of the proposed route that had been requested by the Planning Appeals Commission. This consultation is open until 3 March 2023. This latest consultation is typical of this scheme which is a seemingly-endless cycle of public consultations, legal challenges and other delays that seems to go round over and over again. As it is now 16 years since planning for the scheme began, immense frustration is evident, most recently by the formation of a new pressure group, Enough is Enough that has been set up to push for an end to these delays. They note that 44 people have died on the A5 since the scheme was announced in 2007. They held a very well-attended public meeting in Tyrone GAA centre on Monday 23 January. The public inquiry was due to begin today, but the new consultation has delayed that. DFI said that "It is hoped that the reconvened public inquiry be swiftly reconvened thereafter [when the consultation closes], the timing being at the discretion of the PAC”. So I would think sometime in late March or early April seems likely. Even if the scheme passes the inquiry it's not clear if DFI can proceed in the absence of a Minister. My own views on the future of this project are already on record - see update for 9 November 2022 below - but in summary I no longer think that this scheme can happen as envisaged, due to the mushrooming cost, and that rethinking the basis of the project is key to doing something that has a better chance of saving lives going forward on this dangerous and congested road.

25 Nov 2022: The Planning Appeals Commission had planned to reconvene the adjourned public inquiry into the scheme on 25 January 2023. They held a preliminary meeting on 15 November at which it became clear that the Department for Infrastructure would not be ready by then due to the most recent public consultation on yet another set of modified documents. The PAC has therefore to issue a revised timetable, as reported in the Tyrone Constitution, with some suggestions that it could be delayed to March. With thanks to those who got in touch with me about this. DFI continue to talk about this scheme as if it will all happen. In my previous update below I set out why it cannot happen in the form envisaged and my views on what should be done next.

9 Nov 2022: DFI recently announced another public consultation on the scheme, this time because of some minor adjustments to various scheme documents. The closing date is 23 December. The word on the street is that the public inquiry that was adjourned two and a half years ago in 2020 will be re-convened in January 2023, though this has not been officially confirmed. The scheme documents that have been released include a new total cost estimate for the scheme, which is now given as £1.609 billion. That is an increase on the £1.134 billion in 2019 and the £844m as of 2009 when the Irish government committed to funding £400m of the cost. The Irish government contribution has been partly paid (£200m £75 up to 2022) but has not increased. This means that the amount that Northern Ireland needs to spend has increased from £444m to £1209m, a tripling of the cost. I feel I have to pause at this point and point out that this scheme is now so divorced from reality as to be living in a parallel universe. The DFI documents still envisage the entire scheme being completed by 2028. To achieve this we would need to spend not far off £200m per year on this single scheme for the next six years. That contrasts to DFI's entire expenditure on all roads in the whole of Northern Ireland (not just new roads, but the maintenance of 25,000 km of our existing roads) of £227m in the last financial year. It also contrasts with the cost of the current A6 Derry to Dungiven upgrade which has a total cost of £220m over the space of four years. And we would be expected to come up with this money annually at a time when there is no Executive, a Health Service in crisis and a looming recession. It is obvious to me, just as it must be obvious to DFI and should be obvious to elected representatives, that this scheme is now completely unaffordable.

That's not to say anything about the merit of the scheme, of course. As I recently pointed out 1 out of every 6 fatalities in Northern Ireland in the past year has been on the A5, which is one every 5 weeks on average. People are regularly dying on this road. Since January 2012, 29 lives have been lost and the worst stretch is Omagh to Ballygawley with 13 deaths. We have to stop this madness – what we are actually doing by focusing on a theoretically excellent but undeliverable scheme is eliminating the chances of any improvements happening. So what should we do? Just as in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is to recognise that there is a problem. I suggest the following:

  1. Now: Public representatives must accept that the A5 scheme will not happen in the form proposed because it can't happen. No amount of willpower is going to come up with the cash that would be needed.
  2. Short term (aim to be completed in less than 5 years): Carry out a road safety audit on the Omagh to Ballygawley stretch with the aim of targeted interventions. For example, a series of roundabout upgrades at the worst junctions with differential acceleration lanes leaving them to allow overtaking of slow vehicles. And possibly the lighting of the busier T-junctions, improved sight-lines on corners and the selected imposition of a 50mph speed limit on some stretches. Similar interventions could be targeted on other sections of the A5 too. This would bring the quickest improvement to road safety.
  3. Medium-term (aim to be underway or completed within 5-10 years): Bring forward plans for dual-carriageway bypasses of Strabane and Omagh, and build them as stand-alone projects. This would involve going back to an earlier design stage, but surely nothing could take longer than the current endless cycle of inquiries. This would bring the quickest improvement to journey times, as these are the two worst bottlenecks.
  4. Long term: Once the bypasses are built, focus next on dualling the Omagh to Ballygawley stretch. This would further improve safety and also complete a dual-carriageway/motorway link from Omagh to Belfast.

6 Oct 2022: DFI gave an update on this scheme in their annual report to Mid Ulster District Council last week. It was mostly repeating information we already knew, but it did add that "discussions are on-going with the PAC on the timing of the reconvened public inquiry. It is hoped that the inquiry can be reconvened later this calendar year". PAC is the Planning Appeals Commission who ran the public inquiry in 2020 which was adjourned to allow DFI to carry out more development work. DFI have now completed this work and a new public consultation has ended, so it looks like DFI hope that the inquiry can be reconvened by the end of 2022. This would mean the PAC giving its final report in mid to late 2023 which then, in theory, allow the Minister to make a decision to proceed. This could probably happen even without an Executive as it's been designated a Flagship project and is already committed.

24 Aug 2022: According to a recent question for Written Answer, DFI are hoping that the Public Inquiry into this scheme, which was adjourned two-and-a-half years ago in Feb 2020, can be resumed in "the autumn of this year". The Planning Appeals Commission inspector adjourned the inquiry at that time and instructed DFI to go and do more work around the planning and rationale for the scheme. This work is complete and a public consultation on the resulting Addendum to the Environmental Statement ended in May 2022 with over 200 responses received from the public. Assuming the PAC approve the scheme following the public inquiry, DFI are then hoping to approve the scheme for construction "during 2023".

It is worth noting that DFI don't have enough money to build the A5 as proposed. My own view on this is that the deteriorating financial situation and years of delays means that this scheme is now unaffordable and will therefore not happen in the form proposed. My firm view is that politicians must accept this and salvage what they can by reducing the scope of the project to the bypasses of Strabane and Omagh only and defer a decision on the bits in between for a better future financial climate.

23 Mar 2022: Exactly a year after DFI published the interim report of the Inspector at the Public Inquiry held in spring 2020, DFI have published (on 16 March) an updated Environmental Statement and numerous related documents. These can be accessed here. There is a huge amount of documentation here, running to thousands of pages, but what I consider the three main takeaways are as follows. My own comments on these follow after.

  1. DFI are still working to a schedule of work on phase 1A commencing in late 2023 and the entire project (phases 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 3) all being completed within 5 years, ie by the end of 2028, assuming the availability of funding.
  2. As requested by the Public Inquiry inspector, DFI considered alternative phasing of the project. In particular, they looked at the impact of building the two main town bypasses first, followed by the sections in between. They concluded that they did not support altering the phasing because the alternative would be more costly in terms of additional temporary tie-ins, the reduced opportunities for cut/fill balance along the scheme if it's built in a different order, increased land-take for temporary tie-ins, increased hauling distances, and increased short-term traffic impacts due to platooning of vehicles on the sections not yet upgraded.
  3. As requested by the Public Inquiry inspector, DFI have considered alternatives to the scheme, namely the reduced option of bypasses of Omagh and Strabane, plus 2+1 overtaking opportunities on the rest of the road. The conclusion was that this proposal was feasible, and would bring benefits but that these benefits would not be as great as the proposed scheme and it would not fulfill the scheme objectives. In addition, they concluded that the town bypasses would not be completed until 2032 following 4 years of statutory processes and 4 years of design/construction. The 2+1 overtaking opportunities would not be provided until 2034 following commencement of detailed design in 2030. It would result in approx 33 accidents per year along the A5, as opposed to 16 with the proposed scheme. The report doesn't seem to discuss deaths/serious injuries in relation to the alternatives.

It is understandable, and expected, that DFI would take the position that the current scheme is still the best, given that the Executive has explicitly instructed them to build a dual-carriageway and they must work within that limitation. It is also understandable that they have defended the current phasing for the same reason. Nevertheless, I have issues with what has been published.

  • On point (1) above, the idea that the whole project from Newbuildings to Aughnacloy could be completed by 2028 is completely implausible. Not from an engineering point of view, but from the point of view of funding. The entire scheme now costs about £1.2bn, of which around £100m has been spent already. This leaves £1.1bn to find over the course of five years. The Irish government has already paid or committed £200m of the £400m they originally proposed, leaving Stormont to find at least £700m (and potentially up to £900m). It is implausible to me that, following two years of Covid and in the middle of an energy, health and supply chain crisis, that Stormont will be able to stump up £700m of cash on such a short timescale when there are such significant competing interests in areas such as health.
  • This leads to point (2) above, the phasing. The phasing report is contingent on the funding being allocated within the five year timeframe, despite this seeming unlikely to be the case. To my mind the reasons given for the increased costs with alternative phasing are minor (eg increased haulage distances) or even facetious (platooning of vehicles, which is unlikely to be worse than that on the current, heavily-congested A5). Given that the project is likely to take longer than the five years anticipated, temporary tie-ins are an inevitability, so the fact that they're needed for the alternative does not seem like a major point against it. I don't find the arguments in this document to mount to a convincing case for the current phasing.
  • Finally, on point (3) above, the "alternatives" study essentially states the obvious, namely that a scheme reduced in scale and cost would bring correspondingly fewer benefits. The real point, however, is that the most recent benefit/cost figures revealed at the public inquiry in 2020 indicate that only the town bypasses now make economic sense. For much of the A5, the scheme will cost more than the economic benefits it will bring to the West. So therefore there is a compelling economic reason to consider the alternative. The very long timescale given (completion by 2034) seems to assume that the design and statutory processes would begin again from scratch. This might well be necessary in certain circumstances, but we do have completed designs for bypasses of both towns as part of the bigger scheme. A "middle ground" approach would be to build the bypasses first, to the design and form proposed, with the assumption that if the remainder of the scheme eventually fails to materialise, at least the most congested sections (and the only sections that make financial sense) would be done. This would not take until 2034. I think this document misses the point to some degree.
It is my view, and has been for some time, that the cost of the scheme has now risen to the point of being unaffordable and that the best the Executive can hope for is to scale it down to the two town bypasses only, the sections that would have maximum impact on journey times, and then look further at the remaining sections of the A5. The sooner the Executive accepts this reality and frees the civil servants in DFI from the shackles of the 2007 scheme, the better the chances of making actual material benefits to the A5.

22 Mar 2021: On 16 March DFI published the interim report of the Inspector at the Public Inquiry held in spring 2020. The report is available here, along with DFI's response. The inspector's report was considerably more critical of the scheme than I had anticipated. I have said a great deal (!) about this development over on my blog, but for this update the basis recommendations are:

  • That the overall rationale of the project in terms of road safety and impact on vehicle drivers is excellent.
  • That the impact of the scheme on the environment, and in particular on climate change, is very negative.
  • That DFI hasn't shown beyond doubt that a series of sensitive areas along the route won't be adversely affected, and has requested DFI carry out further environmental assessments. The inspector has not said that the scheme will adversely affect these areas, just that DFI haven't demonstrated this adequately.
  • That DFI haven't taken into account the most recent flooding data. The inspector has asked DFI to re-examine flood risk on the basis of the most up-to-date flood data.
  • That alternatives proposed by others, namely an online dual-carriageway or construction of a railway line, are unlikely to achieve the benefits required and are hence not to be recommended.
  • That DFI should examine a scaled-back option of a bypass of Omagh and a bypass of Strabane with sections of 2+1 overtaking opportunities on the rest of the A5. The Inspector has not said that this would be a better option, but has said that it needs to be detailed in order to establish a baseline against which the proposed scheme can be compared.
  • Given the issue of blight of farmland and property, that DFI should not decide to proceed with any part of the scheme until money has been allocated and ring-fenced.
  • That Phase 3 (Ballygawley to Aughnacloy) represents poor value for money and should be abandoned.
  • That he does not see the logic in the phasing of the different parts of the scheme, and that this should be reconsidered.

DFI have accepted all but the last two recommendations, and are sticking by both the plan to build the planned road in its entirety, and to build it in the order proposed. This is presumably because these two decisions were made by politicians, under whose authority DFI must operate. The DFI Minister, for her part, issued a press release where she said that she remains "committed" to the A5. She said "I know this project has been long awaited and I am determined as Minister to see it progress through the statutory process as quickly as possible, ensuring the project is delivered properly for citizens and our wider environment."

She will struggle to proceed quickly on this, because the new documents that have to be produced will take until the autumn, at which point they will be put out for public consultation, probably taking until Christmas 2021. The Public Inquiry, which is currently adjourned, will then need to resume in early 2022, after which the inspector will issue a report by mid 2022, which DFI will probably publish and respond to in late 2022. So even if the scheme survives this process, commencement of construction is now about two years away (16 years after project commencement). Given this timescale, plus the lack of funding for anything beyond phase 1, the plan to have the whole thing completed by 2028 now seems highly implausible. As I outline in my blog, I do feel that this project is now in difficulties and we are at the point where the Executive has to make some hard choices.

29 Oct 2020: Two weeks ago the Irish government announced the creation of a Shared Island Fund, which will have funds of €500m over the next five years to invest in all-Ireland projects. The fund will be used for various purposes, but cross-border infrastructure projects seem to be high on the agenda, especially roads, rail and greenways. They explicitly mentioned the A5 dual-carriageway as one of the schemes that they would be interested in funding. The Irish government has already spent or committed £200m towards the A5 in the period up to 2022. It's not clear whether this is a re-announcement of the committed funding or whether the project could benefit from investment over and above this. At a total cost of over £1.1bn Stormont cannot afford to build the whole road itself, so only sections of it will proceed without further investment. The move was welcomed by the Northern Ireland Infrastructure Minister who again highlighted the A5.

25 Sep 2020: DFI have said that on 2 September an Interim Report from the Public Inquiry that was carried out by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) in March was submitted to DFI. "Interim" reports are unusual for road schemes, so I am curious as to why it is necessary. It has not been made public. It will likely contain a series of recommendations - principally, whether the scheme should go ahead, but also a series of more minor recommendations about specific issues and locations along the route. DFI will now take a period of time, typically a few months, to examine all these recommendations. They will then prepare their response as a Departmental Statement. It will be up to the DFI Minister to decide when to publish this and the Interim Report. So far this timescale is in keeping the Minister's hope to begin work on the first phase in mid 2021.

12 Jun 2020: A brief update to say that the DFI Minister announced her department's budget two days ago. She confirmed that she has allocated money to continue work on the A5 scheme. She was asked in the media about the dates for the construction of Phase 1A (Newbuildings to South of Strabane) and she stated that it could begin in "mid" 2021, subject to passing the public inquiry and barring delays caused by another legal challenge. This is a slight slippage in expectation, but still only a year away. As of today, we are all waiting for the inquiry inspector to submit his report on the March public inquiry, currently anticipated at the end of September 2020.

10 Apr 2020: The latest public inquiry into the A5 scheme took place in March, starting on 11 March at the Strule Arts Centre. Unlike most public inquiries for roads, this one was carried out by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC), the purpose being to ensure it was totally independent of DFI Roads. There was also a pre-inquiry meeting in February which was held to determine the structure of the inquiry. The new inquiry was necessary because of the delay caused by the most recent (2018) legal challenge, which DFI Roads conceded on a procedural point, which caused the environmental documents to go out of date. Since the next (practically inevitable) legal challenge will itself cause another delay, there sometimes seems to be no route out of this endless cycle. Although it was intended to just be an examination of the updated Environmental Statement, the PAC seem to have allowed the whole rationale for the scheme, including alternatives to the dual-carriageway, to be re-examined at the March Public Inquiry. According to the DFI Minister in March, the inquiry Inspector is now expecting to submit his report to DFI at the end of September 2020. DFI will take time to consider the recommendations of the inquiry and then issue their response a few months later, perhaps at the start of 2021. Assuming the inspector recommends the scheme proceed, this could allow construction to begin on Phase 1A in "Spring 2021". There will, presumably, be another legal challenge at that point so this probably won't happen in practice. DFI will be hoping that if there is another legal challenge then it will be dismissed quickly. Over the past couple months three of things have happened that do make the future of the scheme look a little shakier. Firstly, there was a landmark ruling in the UK's Court of Appeal in late February, where campaigners won a legal challenge to Heathrow Airport's proposed third runway. The grounds were that the plan did not take into account the Paris climate agreement, which seeks to limit global warming. The Paris agreement applies to Northern Ireland, so this would obviously make every large infrastructure scheme susceptible to legal challenge on the same grounds. Secondly, the global COVID-19 pandemic, and likely global depression, could result in the Irish government being forced to withdraw their funding for the A5 scheme, as they did nine years ago in the last recession. Thirdly, there have been suggestions from some quarters that the experience of the UK's current lockdown could result in a permanent shift by many workers to home-working, suppressing traffic levels for years to come. Even a drop of 25% would make a massive difference to traffic congestion. It is too early to say if this will happen, but if it does it might require the re-assessment of the rationale for each individual road scheme. All of these events could conceivably conspire to prevent the scheme going ahead at all. For now all we can do is await the outcome of the Public Inquiry in six months' time, and then wait to see the grounds of the next legal challenge.

27 Jan 2020: With Stormont finally being restored earlier this month, the New Decade New Deal makes explicit mention of this scheme. The British government's section merely lists the A5 as an example of the type of project that the new Executive could choose to fund, without committing anything to it. However the Irish government has committed in concrete terms to giving a total of £75m towards the scheme over the next three years. This mirrors the £125m that they have already paid over the past three years, bringing their total contribution up to £200m. Given that about £80m has been spent on the project so far, this means that the Irish government has essentially bankrolled the scheme up to this point. A new public inquiry, limited in scope to some updated environmental documents, is due to get underway on 18 February. In one of her first Written Answers, the new DFI Minister Nichola Mallon mirrored the DFI's stated position, saying "I am hopeful that first phase of this scheme, from New Buildings to north of Strabane (Phase 1A) could commence in late 2020 / early 2021 with completion in 2023." A new legal challenge by the Alternative A5 Alliance will, of course, have to be dealt with by the courts but DFI will be hopeful that their rigorous work over the past few years will protect the scheme from any further successful challenges.

7 Jan 2020: The Northern Ireland Audit Office published a report into major infrastructure projects on 18 December 2019 and - unsurprisingly - the A5 scheme featured! The report noted that the scheme stands to be about ten years late and with a cost over-run of £301m. More interestingly from the perspective of this web site, the report gives the first "official" overall cost figure that I have seen in several years. It gives the cost of the Newbuildings-Strabane stretch as £207m, Strabane to Omagh as £499m, Omagh to Ballygawley as £270m and Ballygawley to as £158m. That gives a total of £1.134bn. This is in keeping with my comment in 2016 (below) that the scheme was likely to cost in excess of £1bn. These represent substantial cost increases, even taking inflation into account. To date about £80m has been spent and no construction carried out. DFI do, however, estimate that work will begin later in 2020 on the Newbuildings to Strabane stretch, even though there will probably be another legal challenge following their decision to approve construction. DFI will be hoping that the courts will dismiss such a challenge, allowing work to get underway at long last. The NI Audit Office report noted that the legal challenges tend to self-perpetuate, since DFI are required to keep their information both comprehensive and current. This, they said, "perpetuates the development cycle when interspersed with delays through legal challenge. The legal challenges mounted (on multiple grounds) result in delays, with consequential impacts, for example, on environmental and design work. This necessitates further work, time and funding to rebut each challenge and to update and refresh assessment/design work sufficiently to be robust and defensible." The implication is that legal challenges on even minor grounds can result in years of delays and millions of wasted pounds. This situation may be something for Stormont legislators to consider in the years to come.

9 Nov 2019: DFI have now announced the dates for the public inquiry that will be held into the updated Environmental Statement. It will open at 10.30am on Tuesday, 18th February 2020 in the Strule Arts Centre, Townhall Square, Omagh and will last as long as necessary. You can see more details here. Note that this is an Inquiry into an Addendum to the Environmental Statement plus four documents addressing the requirements of the Habitats Directive. It's not an Inquiry into the merits of the overall project, which has already passed a public inquiry. DFI still appear to be committed to this scheme and intend to proceed with phase 1A (Newbuildings to Strabane) during 2020. They have gone into a great deal of care to do everything by the letter since losing their first legal challenge, so their hope will be that even if there is another legal challenge (which is likely) it will be dismissed by the courts, allowing work to commence next year. But for now it's up to the Public Inquiry inspector.

21 Sep 2019: The tear-jerking saga that is the A5 continues to rumble glacially onwards. Five months ago another public consultation was carried out, due to an update to the Environmental Statement. The responses to this consultation seem to have been sufficient that DFI have announced that there will be another public inquiry. As far as I understand, this isn't a comprehensive public inquiry into the whole scheme (such as the inquiry that was held in 2011 and approved the scheme). This is a more limited inquiry into specific environmental issues. But it is likely to delay the project by several months. Last year we had expected that Phase 1A would commence on the ground this autumn, but it now seems that that will have to be delayed until mid 2020 - just in time for the next legal challenge, of course! There is a sense in which the scheme seems to be caught in an endless feedback loop - each delay to the scheme results in the environmental documents going out of date, which results in new documents being prepared, which leads to a new consultation, and then a legal challenge delays things more, to the point that the environmental documents go out of date again. This process has been going round and round since 2012. We have just passed the 12th anniversary of the Executive approving the project. To date I have written 24,000 words of updates on the A5 scheme, and work has yet to begin on the ground. (Apologies if this sounds a bit negative - perhaps I shouldn't update the site late at night.)

7 Apr 2019: The wheels are turning once again on the never-ending saga of the A5. Having conceded the legal challenge in November 2018, DFI now appear to be working towards approving the scheme for the third time, using the powers that senior civil servants now have to make certain decisions without a minister (now extended beyond March). To this end, they have launched a public consultation on an update to the Environmental Statement to take account of the passage of time since it was last consulted. It can be seen here, and people have until 17 May to respond if they wish to. Apart from being a required process, DFI are likely also attempting to make sure the scheme is immune to losing further legal challenges by being absolutely rigorous in every respect of their planning. It's likely that a senior civil servant will approve the scheme around the summer time with work then due to get underway on phase 1A in the autumn (on the Newbuildings to north of Strabane section). From past experience, another legal challenge would then be likely come a short time before work begins. However, DFI's hope will be that all their planning work means that the legal system would reject further challenges.

16 Jan 2019: Following November's quashing of the decision to proceed with the A5 scheme (for the second time), the Department for Infrastructure indicated in early December that they would seek to re-approve the scheme during 2019, with the intention of commencing construction later this year. Before this, however, they intend to make further changes to the Environmental Statement with an associated six-week public consultation. The purpose of these tweaks is probably to ensure that this aspect of the scheme is watertight in terms of opportunities for further legal challenges. DFI have also indicated that if there is still no Minister by the time they seek to approve the scheme (for the third time) then they will "consider" using the powers that were granted by Westminster in October which gives senior civil servants the power to make certain decisions without a minister. It was the fact that these powers were not in place when the scheme was previously approved that led to it to be quashed in court in November. The extent and legality of these powers is the subject of another, more general, court battle which seems to be getting extremely complicated. In other news, a contract for archaeological investigations along the route of phase 1A of the A5 (Newbuildings to North of Strabane) was awarded on 18 December to a McCann/NAC joint venture.

15 Nov 2018: Another legal hearing took place today. At first it looked as if the news was very bad - the Department of Infrastructure itself said they were no longer defending the case and asked the judge to quash their own decision to proceed with the scheme. The legal challenge was brought by the Alternative A5 Alliance and seems to have been primarily on the grounds that senior civil servants did not have the power to make the decision to proceed without a minister (which it now seems they indeed did not). DFI now concede the point and the decision to proceed will probably be quashed at a hearing tomorrow. However, all is not as it seems and - in the words of Seamus Leheny of FTA - this may actually be the legal equivalent of switching the project off and on again. Legislation was passed at Westminster in October which gives senior civil servants the power to make certain decisions without a minister for a period up until March 2019 with possible extensions beyond that if there is still no Executive by then. So I think what may be happening is that DFI are going to accept getting the quashing of the decision they made a year ago to proceed, only to try re-approving the scheme sometime before March and carry on as if nothing had happened. Because of the new legislation, this re-approval – if it happens – would not be vulnerable to the same legal challenge. This means that the scheme is still live (contrary to what I feared this morning) and could well proceed to construction by autumn 2019 as is currently planned.

11 Nov 2018: Better news for the A5 project this time. The court hearing on September 4 (see previous update below) was again adjourned because there is still no guidance from the courts on the implications of the Arc21 court ruling on the power of civil servants to make decisions. The Northern Ireland Secretary recently brought forward new legislation to allow civil servants the authority to make major decisions, which may well negate at least one of the bases of the legal challenge and potentially allow the project to go ahead. In a letter to MLA Daniel McCrossan, the DFI said that the NI Secretary's new law "clarifies that a senior officer of a Northern Ireland department is not prevented from exercising functions of the department during the period for forming an Executive where it is in the public interest to do so" and confirm that they are planning to commence construction by autumn 2019. There still has to be a legal hearing, but with the negation of the question over what powers civil servants have, it may be a simpler case to address.

24 May 2018: This scheme has suffered another setback which could see commencement of construction pushed back another year to 2019. First of all, the hearing for the Alternative A5 Alliance's legal challenge, which was due to be held in a fortnight, has now been pushed back to September 4. Next, on 14 May 2018 Mrs Justice Keegan (the same judge who is to hear the A5 case) ruled that the Permanent Secretary of the the Department for Infrastructure had acted beyond his powers in approving planning permission for a waste incinerator in Newtownabbey. While the specifics of that case are irrelevant to the A5, Justice Keegan's reasoning is certainly relevant. She ruled that without a functioning Executive, decisions that would normally require ministerial approval will STILL require ministerial approval even during an extended period without a minister. That effectively means that no major decisions can be made by civil servants until either the Stormont deadlock is resolved or London imposes Direct Rule, neither of which seems imminent. This is a problem for the A5 because, while the decision to fund the scheme was made by a Minister, the decision to actually proceed to construction was made by civil servants after Stormont collapsed because the public inquiry report had not been published until after that date. However we have to be careful drawing conclusions from the Arc21 case, because the two cases are not the same. In the case of the A5, the scheme clearly has the support of the outgoing Executive, a majority of MLAs in the previous Assembly (as judged by their party policies), a majority of MLAs in the current Assembly, the support of the outgoing Minister AND the approval of the Planning Appeals Commission who carried out the public inquiry. Indeed, the Permanent Secretary of the DFI even has in his possession a document signed by the previous Minister instructing him to proceed with the scheme. So the civil servants are quite clearly acting in line with Ministerial and Executive policy - and were in fact explicitly instructed to do so - something that was not the case with Arc21. DFI can make a strong case that not proceeding to construction would have been more contrary to Ministerial oversight. However, the one issue for DFI is that the Public Inquiry report was issued after Stormont collapsed, and therefore this important document could not have formed part of the Minister's decision. A case could be made that the ministerial decision to proceed was not based on current information and should therefore be set aside. The DFI defence to this would be to note that the public inquiry report recommended proceeding with the scheme, and so it's implausible that such a favourable report would have led the minister to make a different decision. Since the A5 has passed the inquiry and continues to have widespread support, if the legal challenge were to be successful it would therefore be entirely down to procedural technicalities and not the merits of the scheme itself. DFI will undoubtedly defend their position vigorously. However, DFI have now also said that they plan to appeal the Arc21 ruling (they have no real choice but to do so if they aren't to accept being permanently paralysed). Since the implications of this appeal relate directly to the A5, Mrs Justice Keegan may choose to delay the A5 legal hearing beyond September until the Arc21 appeal has been heard. Since this can often take months, it's possible that the A5 challenge may not even be heard in court until early 2019, meaning that we could once again be a year or more away from work commencing on the ground. The head of the Alternative A5 Alliance, John Dunbar, summed up his feelings about this thus: "Every time the thing is delayed, our farmers are getting more time to use their land. We're quite happy to go with that".

21 Apr 2018: A quick update to note that the hearing for the legal challenge bring brought by the Alternative A5 Alliance is to be held on 4th June, almost 6 months after it was lodged. The AA5A have still not said on what grounds they are challenging the scheme, and have  refused to meet at least one local politician to discuss the matter. Whether or not the legal challenge will progress to a full hearing is entirely dependent on the view that the courts take and hopefully this will be decided either way in June so that the contractor, landowners and the wider community in the west have some more certainty.

13 Mar 2018: Construction of Phase 1 had been due to get underway around now, but it is on hold due to yet another legal challenge by an environmental group called the Alternative A5 Alliance. The Department for Infrastructure's A5 web site is how saying that the latest legal challenge "will unavoidably have delay implications for the construction of Phase 1a (New Buildings to north of Strabane) of the scheme which had been programmed to commence early 2018. While the Department will robustly defend its position against this legal challenge, the matter is unlikely to be resolved for a number of months." I'm told that the full hearing will not take place until June. Assuming DFI win the case, work could still get underway in the autumn of this year. However, DFI do not plan to waste time during this period of time, and so preparatory work is continuing, in particular demarking vested land with fences and conducting site surveys. The most significant work to take place will be a £500k archaeological investigation of the route of the road which is about to go out to tender. Doing this work now will mean that construction can commence very rapidly if the legal challenge is resolved in DFI's favour. We are approaching the 11th anniversary of the commencement of this project, with still no new road actually laid, so let's hope it can begin before much longer.

7 Jan 2018: In what is probably the least surprising news of the year so far, it was reported yesterday the Alternative A5 Alliance has launched another legal challenge (their third) to this scheme. No information has been released about what the grounds of the legal challenge are (their Facebook page and Twitter feed have both been silent since November) so at this point it is not possible to comment on that aspect. A legal challenge can only challenge whether the Department for Infrastructure has acted lawfully, and can't consider wider matters such as the priorities of the Northern Ireland Executive, which is (or was) firmly behind this project. However, given that the Department for Infrastructure have known for about five years that a legal challenge was coming, and have put a tremendous amount of effort into being ready, and given that the independent Planning Appeals Commission has just published a report where they backed the scheme and rejected the alternatives that the AA5A support, I will be very surprised if this challenge succeeds. Although work had been due to get underway early in 2018, there was no sign of the contractor gearing up for work so I would speculate that, unofficially, a legal challenge has been built into the schedule of works. Hopefully the case can be decided as quickly as possible so that this scheme is not delayed even further (and perhaps not feed the conspiracy theories that have started emerging in Derry to explain why only schemes benefitting the city seem to be being challenged in this way). The two previous legal challenges took 7 and 3 months respectively to decide.

30 Nov 2017: Just over a year after the public inquiry was held, DFI announced on 28 November that they have formally decided to proceed with the A5 scheme. On the same date the public inquiry report was finally published. This report was compiled by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC), which is an independent body. It is extremely unusual for the PAC to preside over public inquiries into road schemes and this reflects DFI's desire not to be open to legal challenges on this controversial scheme. It makes over 100 recommendations, virtually all of which have been accepted by DFI in their response. In fact, having seen a number of public inquiry reports for different schemes in recent years, I don't think I have seen a scheme where the inspector's recommendations have been accepted in such a wholesale manner. The only significant one that DFI does not accept is the PAC's recommendation that "the Phase 3 segment (Ballygawley to the Border at Aughnacloy) should be removed from the Proposed Scheme altogether" on the grounds that it doesn't add much benefit ahead of the N2 being upgraded in County Monaghan. That said, the wording implies that PAC didn't really expect DFI to accept this and they add that "the Minister may take an alternative view" before going on to make recommendations about specific elements of this stretch anyway. DFI did not accept it, noting that "both the NI Executive and the Irish government committed to upgrading the A5WTC in full and the Department considers that it continues to be appropriate to implement that commitment, including delivery of Phase 3 of the scheme."

The 2016 public inquiry, unlike the one that took place in 2011, also considered (albeit at a high level) alternatives to an offline dual-carriageway, including upgrading the existing road and a railway. However, their report rejects both of these options. It is worth quoting them at length: "We point to the policy context setting out the benefits of upgrading the A5 Corridor, including the inter-governmental impetus behind a dual carriageway solution to that upgrade. The Scheme’s benefits are a sound fit with the aforementioned context and the stated objectives for the Scheme. The benefits are of major public significance. While alternatives might, for example, have a lesser land take than the Proposed Scheme, we are not persuaded that they are reasonably capable of achieving the same scale of benefits."

Therefore, DFI have decided to proceed with the scheme. Since a contractor and funding are already in place for phase 1A (Newbuildings to north of Strabane), there is no reason not to begin work as soon as possible. The only outsnding issue is to "make" the Vesting Order, ie formally buy the land required, which will likely happen very soon. DFI's press release indicated that construction would begin in "early 2018", so we could be just a few months away from commencement. It is always possible that things will be delayed by a fresh legal challenge, but with DFI having put more effort than I have ever seen into making sure everything has been done properly, it would seem unlikely to me that such a challenge would be successful. Given that Phase 1B (south of Omagh to Ballygawley) has been partly, though not completely, funded my feeling is that DFI are likely to delay beginning work on phase 1B until sometime in 2019, ie just over a year from now, at which point it will get underway too. We could expect Phase 1A to be completed by early 2021 and Phase 1B to follow sometime in 2022. These are exciting times for the west of the province.

5 Sep 2017: We still haven't seen the public inquiry report into this scheme, although it was due to have been released around now. Without an executive there is no Ministerial direction, so it's not clear how keen DFI are to keep generating headlines for this project or how keen they might be to be the ones to formally decide to proceed if the public inquiry Inspector backs the scheme. However, they have just launched another public consultation of their Habitats Assessment reports. This is the third time these documents have been put out for consultation, and this time the changes are so minor (really just tweaks to terminology) that the only explanation is that DFI want the assessment to be absolutely watertight so as to leave no possible grounds for legal challenge. These are probably the most carefully-crafted documents to come out of DFI and is predecessors in many years. The consultation will run from 22 August until 2 October. It could be that we don't see the public inquiry report published until after this. It is also worth remembering that the contractors for the scheme have already been appointed (a number of years ago) so, unlike most other roads, this scheme does not need to go through a tendering process. It also already has a funding allocation for the Newbuildings to Strabane stretch. That means that if the road got the go-ahead work could potentially commence on this stretch as soon as the contractor was able to get geared up and the final design was completed. "Late 2017" is still being quoted in some political circles, though that feels a little optimistic to me given how long it would take a contractor to get set up for work of this scale.

10 Jul 2017: According to their report to Derry City and Strabane council last month, DFI Roads (the new name for TransportNI - another name change!) are expecting to commence work on the Newbuildings to Strabane stretch of the A5 in November/December 2017 despite the lack of a functioning government. This is assuming it passes the public inquiry, which it is fully expected to, though the Inspector's Report has not yet been published. I don't expect this commencement date to actually happen, because it's virtually certain that the Alternative A5 Alliance or some other body will launch another legal challenge, probably on the day the new Vesting Order becomes active, leading to another court case and consequent delays. However it is always possible that they won't, which would be good news for the North West as we are now a week away from the tenth anniversary of the project first being announced. In more positive news, during his ultimately successful campaign to become leader of Fine Gael and hence Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar indicated that he would fund the upgrade of the A5 by a further €465m, presumably over and above the £125m already committed. That would bring Dublin's contribution to the project to around £535m, approximately 50% of the cost. However we do have to be cautious in our expectations since politicians often make promises when they want votes!

13 Apr 2017: The public inquiry ended about four months ago and there is still no word on a report coming from the Planning Appeals Commission (who oversaw the inquiry, presumably to remove any suggestion of bias). In the meantime, however, TransportNI have launched a public consultation of the latest drafts of their new Habitats Regulations Reports, which constitutes the "appropriate assessment" of wildlife habitats that TransportNI are required to produce under EU legislation. These are updated versions of documents that were previously put out to consultation three years ago. Given that this is the exact point on which the DRD lost a legal challenge five years ago, you can guarantee that these will be among the most carefully crafted documents ever to come out of TransportNI. The consultation is open until 22 May and the draft documents are available from here. Given that we no longer have a functioning government in Northern Ireland, it is now down to civil servants to progress this scheme. Although the previous Executive has allocated funds for this scheme, and a contractor is already in place – and that remains the situation – it's not entirely clear if the civil servants alone have the authority or inclination to carry the scheme right through to commencement of construction. Work on the first stretch (Newbuildings to Strabane) is due to begin in late 2017, although as of today that is feeling a little optimistic to me: we still haven't had the public inquiry report and (yes, I'll just go ahead and say it) even the dogs in the street are expecting another legal challenge. And unless the DUP and Sinn Féin can overcome their differences and form a new Executive, this scheme could end up being a casualty through intertia.

3 Dec 2016: On 30 November 2016, a judge at Belfast High Court rejected the legal challenge that had been brought by the Alternative A5 Alliance. The challenge was on two fronts. Firstly, they asserted that the Public Inquiry should look at alternatives to the scheme. This was rejected because the PAC decided about a month ago that they would do so (after the legal challenge was made). Secondly, the accusation was made that the scheme requres a Stategic Economic Assessment if it features in Stormont's next Programme for Government. Currently it does not feature in any Programme for Government. This was rejected as "premature". The judge said "I consider there's a degree of prematurity to this ground of challenge." "Whilst the Programme for Government consultation process is ongoing and whilst the public inquiry is ongoing I do not consider I should finally determine this issue." Given this comment, it is perhaps unlikely that the A5 will feature explicitly in a future Programme for Government - not all road schemes do. The legal challenge in this case has not delayed the scheme, since it took place concurrently with the Public Inquiry, which is about to enter its third month of gathering evidence. However, the AA5A has not exhausted all legal avenues, since TransportNI will still have to publish new legal orders once the public inquiry is over, and it was these that the AA5A successfully challenged four years ago. I think it's almost certain that another legal challenge will be mounted before work begins on the first stretch (currently anticipated for late 2017, between Strabane and Newbuildings). Given that legal challenges cause delays that can cost taxpayers millions of pounds, and leave landowners in limbo, I do hope a way can be found to speed up the legal processes so that the due processes of law can take place without creating longer delays and higher costs than is absolutely necessary.

6 Nov 2016: The second public inquiry into the A5 scheme has now been underway for a month, and will continue until at least 15 December, which is over two months. Unlike most schemes, which are run via TransportNI, this one is being run by the independent Planning Appeals Commission (PAC), presumably in an effort to eliminate any accuasions of bias. Public inquiries are generally limited to assessing the proposals on the table, and generally don't consider alternatives, and this has been the position for many years. Thus an inquiry will assess a road scheme against not building the road scheme, but not in a broader sense. In the case of the A5, some objectors have claimed that this is unfair and that they ought to be able to bring alternatives, eg rail-based solutions, and on 29 June they asked the PAC to allow this. TransportNI indicated in a letter on 16 September that they would "oppose any attempt to invive the PAC to embark on an inquiry into two or more alternative schemes, since the terms of reference relate to one scheme only", but acknowledged that ultimately it was up to the PAC to decide what they wanted to do. Last week the PAC said that they would allow alternatives to be considered. They said " the Commission has decided that in order to facilitate an open and fully inclusive inquiry there should be sessions allowing for the consideration of broader strategic issues, namely the need / justification for the Department’s scheme, and alternatives to an offline dual carriageway". They also asked TransportNI to release additional information on the economic appraisal of the scheme, and TransportNI have now done so here. These show the scheme to have a benefit/cost ratio of 1.88 (meaning, for every £1 spent on the scheme there will be £1.88 of benefits over the 60 year assessment period). Broadening out the inquiry to consider alternatives is unusual for road scheme inquiries in Northern Ireland so it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this has on the inquiry process.

8 Oct 2016: TransportNI were asked for updated cost estimates for this scheme, which is good given that we have not been given a cost for the overall scheme since 2009. In a Question for Written Answer in the Assembly (AQW 2450/16-21) the Minister gave current costs for three of the four sections. These costs are at current prices, though it is noted that these may increase in the years between now and construction getting underway. Starting at the north, the cost for Newbuildings to North of Strabane was given as £150m. This is surprising given that four years ago the cost of this stretch was given as £170m, but we will run with it. Then, the cost for the North of Strabane to South of Omagh stretch was given as £495m. Then, the South of Omagh to Ballygawley stretch is given as £225m, which agrees with the figure quoted a few months ago. All three of these come out at a cost of £10.5m per km, so I suspect that that's the figure they are using. They did not mention the final stretch, Ballygawley to Aughnacloy, but using the same figure this stretch would cost £107m, so let's use that for now. Finally, the Minister notes that the costs he gave did not include costs incurred to date for design. In April 2015 we were told that £72m had already been spent on the project. So adding all those figures together we can come up with a total estimated cost for the entire A5 scheme of £1049m, in line with my prediction in April (see previous updates below). That makes this project the first ever road scheme in Northern Ireland to top £1bn and certainly the most expensive road scheme ever undertaken here. There is still no word on the legal challenge being heard at the High Court. The Public Inquiry was due to have begun in Omagh on 4 October (with hearings timetabled right through October and into November) but it's not clear whether any meeting actually took place on that date. The PAC web suggests that the legal challenge hinges on the scope of the inquiry ("an application for leave to apply for judicial review has been made to the High Court raising legal issues about the scope of the inquiry"), which presumably refers to the fact that the Inquiry is only examining the proposals on the table and not any alternative options.

14 Sep 2016: According to a report in the Tyrone Constitution, the Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A, the umbrella group of landowners and other people that won a legal challenge which halted construction in 2012) lodged a new legal challenge in the High Court on 24 August, ie three weeks ago, but this has only just become public knowledge. They appear to be seeking a judicial review. Although the report does not state what grounds the AA5A believes that it has for seeking a judicial review, the quotations from the group's leader John Dunbar, suggests that they are hoping to create a delay by the legal action in order to raise awareness of their concerns. He said "Legal proceedings have been applied for. We await to see what will happen but the longer nothing happens on the road the more people will realise how important all these issues are. Whether the inquiry will be put back as we proceed, I don't know". The AA5A's concerns seem to be unchanged from what they were four years ago. Mr Dunbar said "There are several important issues in play. Economically this road does not make sense and environmentally it does not make sense. It will be divisive to communities and settlements along the route. We don't think the A5 is in the interests of the country." and continued "Our take on the dual carriageway is that it is not necessary. Building a road this size only increases road traffic which in turn creates road emissions and in turn has a bad affect on climate change. That then is going to have an adverse impact on the well-being of people and our habitats."

Whether the High Court does allow a judicial review to proceed will depend on how strong a case the AA5A can make that proper processes have not been followed. Public inquiries are always limited to examining the proposals on the table, not other options that could hypothetically be built, so I would think it unlikely that a challenge on the legality of the remit of the inquiry would stand up. And concerns such as whether road building is a good idea or not are in the remit of the political sphere, not the more narrow legal sphere of an inquiry. But we do not know the content of the legal challenge so we will have to see what the courts make of it. Naturally the Department for Infrastructure is resisting the application.

A new public inquiry is scheduled to start next month. If the court rejects the challenge then the new public inquiry will go ahead as planned. However, if the judicial review is granted, then the public inquiry would probably have to be put on hold pending the outcome. The effect of this would be to delay commencement of the first stretch from the current 2017 date, into 2018 which would create funding difficulties. It has to be said that some of the AA5A's points are valid - it is true that TransportNI has not publicly updated their cost estimate of £844m since 2009, which is a long time to make no comment on the total cost of such an important scheme, and I believe that the cost by now must be over £1bn. For the DfI to make some kind of public statement on this point would be quite reasonable. The legal challenge effectively puts Sinn Fein directly against the AA5A since Sinn Fein is the driving force behind the A5 scheme. Before the last Assembly election Sinn Fein even went to far as to say that they would not agree to any programme of government that did not include construction of the A5. So nobody should underestimate Sinn Fein's likely resolve to overcome this latest setback. Much frustration was evident today on Twitter from elected representatives at the years of delays to infrastructure development that these legal challenges are creating. It is possible that one side effect might be to encourage Stormont to legislate to give the government greater powers to drive infrastructure projects forward, but that is something for Stormont to debate.

1 May 2016: Two weeks ago, on 18 April, the DRD published an amended "Non-Technical Summary" of the Environmental Statement. To recap, the Environmental Statement is the big (6000 page!) document that sets out the DRD's case for building this road, and it is this document which is the primary thing that will be examined at the public inquiry, anticipated to take place this autumn. The Environmental Statement was put out for a 6 week consultation in February, which has now ended. Along with this document, the DRD also published a short summary of the Environmental Statement - this is known as the "Non-Technical Summary" and it is what most laypeople who just want the 'jist' would read. What seems to have happened is that the DRD have now realised that this summary did not precisely match the content of the Environmental Statement. Now that they have realised this, they have updated the document and put it out for a new public consultation. I've sought and received clarification from the DRD and on this basis a few points can be made on this. (1) Firstly, yes this appears to have been the result of a mistake. (2) Secondly, the Environmental Statement has not changed - only the summary has changed. So this is not a material change to the scheme, rather a point of procedure. (3) The new consultation is being carried out in order to make sure that the DRD cannot be challenged on the grounds of not following proper procedure - which was the reason for the scheme's ignominious collapse in 2013. (4) It will not impact on the timescale of the scheme, since this second consultation can happen concurrently with preparing for the inquiry - it does not represent a six week delay to the project. An embarrassing episode for those involved, but hopefully one that ultimately won't have any adverse effects on the scheme.

In other news, the DRD Minister stated in the Assembly 6 weeks ago that the public consultation that took place in February and March attracted over 1000 attendees, which is quite good for a Northern Ireland road scheme. Apparently a total of 1,266 responses were received, including one petition of 400 signatories. The Minister also commented that the "south of Omagh to Ballygawley" stretch (known now as Phase 1B) should be "hopefully commencing at the latter part of the five-year budget period [2016-2021]". This fits with my own prediction in January which was a commencement in 2019 with completion by 2021. The DRD, however, have not been more specific than this so please bear in mind that this is my prediction, not official information.

11 Apr 2016: The most recent public consultation into the overall A5 scheme ended a week ago on 4 April, and included public exhibitions as listed in the previous update. The leaflets handed out at these consultations are available online at the bottom of this page (click the + signs). Also on the web site is a set of three flythoughs of the A5 scheme, here. Interestingly, the consultation also listed a timescale for the construction of the scheme, though they are keen to stress that this was purely for the purposes of assessing future impacts, and is not meant to be a prediction or even a firm intention:

  • Phase 1 (2017-2019) - including:
    • Phase 1A - Newbuildings to North of Strabane, currently planned to commence in 2017.
    • Phase 1B - South of Omagh to Ballygawley, I believe could commence around 2019.
  • Phase 2 (2021-2023) - North of Strabane to South of Omagh.
  • Phase 3 (2026-2028) - Ballygawley to Republic of Ireland border near Aughnacloy

All the same, the dates given here for Phase 1 seem pretty accurate to me and, provided the Executive remains committed to the scheme as a priority, then the timing of Phase 2 also seems plausible. The timing for Phase 3 is really a stab in the dark, because the DRD have previously said (following a recommendation by the previous Public Inquiry inspector) that that section will only be built in conjunction with a dualling scheme on the N2 south of the border, which doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon.

The DRD Minister was asked about the scheme several times in March. In Written Answer AQO 9876/11-16 she confirmed that it is intended that a second public inquiry will be held in "autumn 2016", and is expected to be administered by the Planning Appeals Commission. This isn't common for road schemes, so it suggests that the DRD are working very hard to ensure the new Inquiry is beyond reproach and not open any accusations of bias.

We now finally have some new costs. In one of those Written Answers, the estimated cost of the North of Strabane to South of Omagh stretch (Phase 2) is given as £495m in 2016 prices, while the South of Omagh to Ballygawley stretch (Phase 1B) is given as £225m, a substantial increase of 40% on the cost of £160m that was being quoted in 2012. Inflation will certainly have increased the price of the scheme, but other costs may have changed too. If the overall scheme has risen proportionately, then the £844m cost that was given in 2009 could well be over £1100m today. I think it is safe to assume that the overall A5 dualling scheme is now costing over £1bn, making it the single most expensive road project ever undertaken in Northern Ireland, beating even the building of the M1 and M2 in the 1960s/early 1970s. It also means that the Irish government's (currently theoretical) contribution of £400m will now fund just over one third of the cost.

Lastly, the DRD have issued new maps of the proposed scheme (at this link, down at the bottom under "Brochures"). These plans do differ from those made available five years ago, but mostly in details too minor to be worth listing here. These are largely changes recommended by the Public Inquiry inspector after the last Inquiry. The DRD have taken the opportunity to incorporate those into the design before the new inquiry. The one significant design change is at Ballygawley - for more details of this please see the page dedicated specifically to the Omagh-Ballygawley stretch.

24 Feb 2016: The DRD put the scheme back out for a formal public consultation on 16 February along with a Ministerial statement. (strictly speaking it is a consultation into a series legal documents including the Environmental Statement, but it amounts to the same thing). The consultation will end on 4 April, after which there will almost certainly be a public inquiry, currently scheduled for autumn 2016. If you are feeling a sense of deja vu, that's because this has all happened before, five years ago. The successful legal ruling in March 2013 resulted in the first Environmental Statement having to be re-written, and this requires the process to be carried out all over again. Regardless of who is at fault for the inadequacies of the first Environmental Statement, the legal challenge has delayed the project by at least five years, cost millions of pounds of taxpayers money not to mention the road traffic collisions that would not have happened had the first sections been completed by now as originally planned. So let us hope that these new documents are watertight so as to avoid a repeat of this episode. In good news, the official web site of the scheme www.a5wtc.com has been relaunched with a fresh new design (including an interactive route map) and is now looking very modern and dapper! Perhaps as an admission of how long this project has dragged on, all material prior to March 2013 has now been relegated to a new "Archive" section! Finally, a series of public exhibitions will take place next week as follows and I would encourage as many people as possible to turn up to air their views and respond to the consultation:

  • 1 Mar 2016, 1pm-9pm: Everglades Hotel, Prehen Road, L'Derry
  • 2 Mar 2016, 1pm-9pm: Silverbirch Hotel, Gortin Road, Omagh
  • 3 Mar 2016, 1pm-9pm: Fir Trees Hotel, Dublin Road, Strabane
  • 4 Mar 2016, 1pm-9pm: Smyth Memorial Hall, Church Street, Ballygawley

11 Jan 2016: In my previous update (below) I did some analysis of the recent budget allocations and predicted that work would begin on the first element of this scheme , Newbuildings to North of Strabane, during 2017. Given that the scheme needs to have its draft legal orders published, and then a new public inquiry held, before work can begin (the contractor is already appointed) the Minister would need to be pressing ahead with these steps pretty quickly. That now seems to be what is happening - in the Assembly today the Minister was asked specifically about the timescale of these steps and she said that "I am hopeful that I will have an announcement to make on that before the end of January. The first section is for new buildings north of Strabane, which is where the money has been identified for. Obviously, that is my focus at present and we will move forward on that, but I will give more detail towards the end of the month." So that's encouraging and reinforces my belief that, assuming it passes the Public Inquiry, we will see this stretch get underway next year. She did not mention the other stretch, South of Omagh to Ballygawley, which I am still predicting will get underway a couple of years later, around 2019.

20 Dec 2015: Three days ago the Finance Minister delivered her budget for the next financial year. In this budget a funding allocation was made to the A5 scheme for each of the next five years: £13.2m in 2016/17, then £40m (2017/18), £53m (2018/19), £55m (2019/20), £68m (2020/21). This is a total of £229m over five years, and seems to INCLUDE the £75m promised by Dublin in November (see update for 18 Nov below). So it's really £154m of Executive funding plus £75m of RoI funding. Now, the total cost of the ENTIRE A5 scheme, from Derry to Ballygawley, by now is likely to be around £1bn so this money is NOT going to see the whole thing go ahead. Back in February 2012, the NI Executive decided to go ahead with two stretches ahead of the rest - Newbuildings to North of Strabane at a cost of £170m and South of Omagh to Ballygawley at a cost of £160m. These two schemes together are collectively known as Phase 1 (still with me?) which therefore has a total bill of £330m. These were about to go to ground in late 2012 when they were halted by a successful legal challenge. The two schemes are now back in planning, and are likely to face a new Public Inquiry early in 2016. Provided they pass, they could be ready for construction again by early 2017. So, back to the funding - the £229m over the next five years is NOT sufficient to fund all of Phase 1, but the DRD Minister has since explicitly stated that she will use the money to proceed with the first element, Newbuildings to North of Strabane, and I think we're likely to see construction getting underway on this in early 2017, again subject to the public inquiry. I stress that this is my estimate - the DRD have not said anything about timescales. However, this scheme costs £170m so what about the surplus £60m that has been allocated? I go into the whys and wherefores in more detail over on my blog, but I think we could see the other part of Phase 1, South of Omagh to Ballygawley, getting underway a couple of years later, around 2019, and continuing beyond the five year period mentioned. So that's where I think we are - the two elements of Phase 1 will go ahead, but possibly not at the same time. This does, of course, have to be confirmed by the DRD.

11 Dec 2015: DRD Ministers in my experience very, very rarely make definite-sounding statements about timescales, but the new DRD Minister has done just that with the A5. In a Written Question answered this week, she was asked when work will begin on the A5 and she said "the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government have agreed that, subject to successful completion of statutory procedures, the construction of a section of the A5 shall commence in 2017 with a view to completion by 2019". That is about as definite a statement as it's possible to get from a Minister here, implying that she does not see a funding allocation as an issue at all, and that the outcome of the public inquiry is the only thing that could delay it. Her reference to "a section of the A5" almost certainly refers to the section from Newbuildings to north of Strabane which is the one named in "A Fresh Start" (see previous update). So I think we could put our money on work on the A5 commencing within the next two years.

18 Nov 2015: Yesterday saw the publication of an agreement between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Féin and the DUP which will supposedly end the current impasse in Stormont. Called "A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan", the document contains a lot of information. However, the bit that is relevant to roads is under Section E: "Irish Government Financial Support". In this section the Irish government commits to further funding for the A5 scheme. As most people will know, the Irish government offered £400m but this was withdrawn in 2011 due to the economic downturn. The Irish government subsequently made £50m available (2013?). In "A Fresh Start" the Irish government commits to a further £75m, to be paid in three tranches of £25m in 2017, 18 and 19 "to ensure that Phase 1 of the project can commence as soon as the necessary planning issues have been resolved by the Northern Ireland authorities". My understanding is that the term "Phase 1" refers collectively to the two sections that are to be built ahead of the rest of the scheme - Newbuildings to north of Strabane and south of Omagh to Ballygawley. It is important to pause and express gratitude to the Irish government for providing £75m of funding from Irish taxpayers to upgrade a road wholly within Northern Ireland, though it will undoubtedly bring benefits to the Republic too. "A Fresh Start" goes on to state that "construction on the first section of the A5 will commence in 2017 with a view to completion by 2019. The first section will be the route between Newbuildings ... to north of Strabane". This timescale is unchanged from what I have been predicting for the past year (see my update on 6 Dec 2014 below, for example) so this isn't really a new timescale. What IS new however is the certainty surrounding this - provided the scheme passes the public inquiry, it is now as certain as it is possible to be that work will commence in 2017. Given that the estimated cost of the Newbuildings to north of Strabane scheme was £170m in 2012 the Northern Ireland Executive would need to provide a further £95m over and above Dublin's £75m to allow this section to be built. There is no mention in "A Fresh Start" of the south of Omagh to Ballygawley stretch. However a Sinn Féin press release issued today states that "Sinn Féin has committed that work will start as soon as possible and we are determined to see the second phase of the A5 upgrade from Omagh to Aughnacloy start at the same time in 2017." (I'm assuming "Aughnacloy" is a typo for "Ballygawley" since there is no plan to upgrade the A5 south of Ballygawley in the near future since Dublin has not decided if and when they will upgrade the N2 towards Monaghan.) The only way this could happen would be if the Executive provided a FURTHER £160m (in 2012 prices) to fund this section in its entirety. This is a decision for the Executive, but Sinn Féin have made it quite clear in recent weeks that this is a red line issue for them. This would mean a total of £95m + £160m = £255m being needed over the period 2017-19 if both are to be built. This is a decent amount of money and such a commitment would have implications for the timescales of other proposed upgrades such as the A6 and York Street interchange. The only outstanding issue for the A5 is the need for a second public inquiry, which I would expect to take place in the first part of 2016. The contractor has already been appointed so there would be no delay for a procurement process, so there is no reason why a 2017 start could not be achieved.

8 Oct 2015: There have been two significant developments on this scheme over the past week. Firstly, the Irish government has published its “Infrastructure and Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021” which sets out major capital funding for the next five years. The Irish News reported "the decision by the Republic's government to pledge up to £400 million of funds for the A5 road expansion". While true, the references to the A5 in the Plan are actually more vague than this wording suggests. It makes two references to the A5: “there will be renewed focus on investing in a number of the key transport corridors, including ongoing review of the scope for building on the current commitment to the A5 road project, which is of major strategic importance to the North-West” and “The Government remains supportive of the commitment under the St Andrews Agreement to co-fund the construction of the A5 through Northern Ireland to Derry, which will improve access to Derry and North Donegal. The timeframe for this project is dependent on planning issues which are currently being addressed by the Northern Ireland authorities. Once planning, timing and costs associated with this major scheme are settled, consideration will be given to funding implications within the overall Government capital plan”. This doesn’t commit any cash over any particular timescale, but it is a commitment in principle. More specific comments are probably being made behind closed doors.

Secondly, earlier this week the deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, stated that “I have nailed my colours to the mast on the project. If the project doesn't go ahead in the aftermath of the next assembly elections, which is only a few months away, we will will not be agreeing a programme for government. I would have every expectation that work on the A5 will start in just over a year from now.” I always do my best to keep out of politics on this site, but it really must be said that this statement is quite remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first time that I know of in Northern Ireland’s history (even during the height of the road building era in the 1960s) that the future functioning of the government has been made contingent on a roads project proceeding. And secondly, it is somewhat cavalier in relation to the public inquiry. The inquiry has not yet happened and I expect it will pass. But, in a democracy, an inquiry must at least hold open the possibility that the scheme will fail its inquiry and not be built. The deputy First Minister’s comment would seem to imply that the public inquiry and views of the public are irrelevant which is also not a good impression for the government to give.

But to look at the practicalities of the deputy First Minister’s comments, there isn’t really any reason why what he is saying could not happen. The public inquiry will probably happen early in 2016 and, since the contractor has already been appointed, it is not unreasonable to say that construction could be underway “just over a year from now”. To do so would require an almost immediate allocation of funding from both Stormont and Dublin. The funding needed would be sufficiently high that other schemes such as the A6 dualling from Randalstown to Castledawson and the York Street Interchange in Belfast might have to be delayed by a few years to make this possible.

We will have to wait and see if and when there is a solution to the current impasse at Stormont. However it is looking now as if any solution to the impasse will include a commitment to an early commencement of the A5, so as things stand today I would say the A5 has a much higher chance of starting in the near future than it did a few weeks ago.

It also has to be noted that there has been no revision in the long-standing cost estimate of £844m for the whole scheme. This figure was first quoted in 2009, which is now over six years ago, so inflation alone will have impacted this, not to mention the need for further design work, compensation to landowners for the aborted work and the second public inquiry. Inflation has averaged 2-3% over this period, so the equivalent cost in 2015 would be around £980m. So we may be heading towards our first £1bn road scheme in Northern Ireland! With thanks to Ian Parsley for thoughts on this issue. So the Irish government's contribution of £400m would be closer to 40% of the total cost rather than the "half" we've been saying up to now.

26 Sep 2015: This update is not to report on any particular developments, but just to keep things up to date since it's been six months since the last update to this page. The new Environmental Statement (plus the new draft legal orders) has still not been published, although to be fair when the Minister spoke about this in January he merely said it would happen "later this year", which it still is. In a press release in July 2015, the Minister said that they "will be published for comment/representations this calendar year. Public exhibitions at local venues will coincide with these publications." The subsequent resignation of the Minister notwithstanding, this is a confident-sounding prediction. Since it's now September I do feel a new public inquiry "late in 2015" seems unlikely (see update for Dec 2014 below) but one by mid 2016, certainly seems plausible if there is a will to keep this project moving. That last point is one of the big unknowns with the current shape of Stormont. If money was made available as soon as the scheme passes its inquiry (which I think it will) construction could potentially be underway by 2017. Whether this happens will depend on who makes the decisions at that time, and what their priorities for roads funding are since there are many competing projects, notably the A6 Derry-Belfast road and the York Street Interchange.

11 Mar 2015: During March 2014 we had anticipated publication of the revised Environmental Statement around November 2014, but this did not happen. According to an answer given by the DRD Minister in the Assembly at the end of January, the publication of the new Environmental Statement (plus the new draft legal orders) is not anticipated until sometime in 2015, which will then be followed by a six week public consultation. This will then lead to a public inquiry - which the Minister now admits is a virtual certainty - which would not be held until "later this year" (this time last year he said it would be in the spring or summer which seems to have slipped). So basically we are now back at the point where we were about four and a half years ago when this process happened the last time. Assuming the scheme passes the inquiry - which it likely will, since it passed first time round and nothing of substance has changed in the interim - we could see construction getting underway during 2017. Had it not been for the legal challenge, the first two stretches of this dual-carriageway would have been nearing completion by now.

6 Dec 2014: The public consultation for the last of the four reports into the impacts of the scheme on environmentally sensitive sites, Tully bog, ended at the end of November. These four reports were written due to the court ruling of March 2013 that halted the scheme. According to the Minister (speaking in the Assembly on 18 November) the next step will be the publication of draft versions of the Environmental Statement (which sets out its rationale and impact), the Vesting Order (which allows the DRD to compel landowners to sell the necessary land) and the Direction Order (giving the DRD permission to build a new trunk road). These will very likely be the subject of a new public inquiry, which the Minister anticipates could take place "late in 2015". According to the minutes of a TransportNI board meeting held on 1 October (but just published) says that the three draft documents should be published in December 2014 with a public exhibition in January 2015. It also seems that the DRD have approached the Planning Appeals Commission to "on the possibility of their Inspectors taking the lead in a future Public Inquiry on the scheme". This is presumably to prevent any accusations of bias and to make the process as transparent as possible to avoid a repeat of the court challenge of 2012/13. If all these processes go smoothly, then I would anticipate that construction of the two initial stretches of this scheme could get underway around 2017.

15 Oct 2014: The DRD has now published the last of the four reports into the impacts of the scheme on environmentally sensitive sites. This one is on the Tully Bog Special Area of Conservation. It is now go out to public consultation for six weeks, until 28 November (I believe). The previous three were published in April and their consultation period is now over. The report concludes that the A5 scheme will have no impact on Tully Bog (unless the design changes between now and construction). This is the final report that was needed to meet the requirements of the court ruling 19 months ago which hinged on the lack of these reports. Once this public consultation is over the DRD can then move towards publishing a revised Environmental Statement and then a probably new public inquiry, which could be held by the summer of 2015. Modified 20 Oct: I had included some additional information in the 15 Oct update, but it emerged on 20 Oct that the version of the file I was using was incorrect. A corrected version of the document was released by DRD on 20 Oct. So I have removed the rest of this update as it is no longer relevant.

13 Oct 2014: The DRD Minister has said, via a Question for Written Answer, that the total amount of money spent on this scheme to date is now £70.7m (of which £2.4m is land and £68.3m is development, ie design costs). This is an incredible sum of money to have spent on a project for which construction has not even begun, considering for example that the Magherafelt Bypass, soon to get underway, costs between £35m and £45m. The money spent to date is also about 50% of the total cost of the proposal to upgrade the M2/M3/Westlink (York Street) junction in Belfast. It leaves the Minister in a bit of a dilemma - cancelling the scheme would therefore pour at least £70m of taxpayer's money down the drain, yet proceeding with even the two initial phases will cost a total of £330m (including the 70) which is very expensive in the current climate. If it had not been for the legal challenge by the Alternative A5 Alliance, these two stretches would probably be nearing completion by now.

14 Sep 2014: The DRD Minister was asked about this scheme in the Assembly eight days ago. He confirmed that the timescale is still the same as in the previous update (below), ie public inquiry in Spring/Summer of 2015. However he added a comment in relation to "...the uncertainty in the overall financial position of whether there will be sufficient capital money going forward. I am not in a position to confirm that situation, and, therefore, I am processing the work that is necessary at this time. Clearly, however, the financial scenario here could well impact on this scheme and, indeed, other capital schemes." What he's basically saying here is that he's going to continue to progress the A5 scheme to the point that it can be built, ie on the assumption that it will be built, but without actually committing to build it. Given how uncertain the financial climate is in Northern Ireland, and especially how expensive this scheme is (£330m for this first phase), this is the best that he can say, and I don't think it represents anything more sinister than the genuine facts of the situation. The only other currently outstanding issue is the publication of the fourth and final report into the impacts of the scheme on environmentally sensitive sites. The first three were published in April. The last one, on Tully Bog, was due to be published this month but this has been pushed back slightly to October 2014.

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.