A6 Dualling - Randalstown (M22) to Castledawson (archive)


This page is supplementary to the main page about this scheme and holds older site updates.

Progress (10 July 2017 and earlier)

10 Jul 2017: Another wonderful aerial movie of the scheme has been uploaded to YouTube by John Toner, taken around the 1st of July. It was taken on the Randalstown to Toome stretch, beginning at the terminus of the M22 near Randalstown and moving west towards Toome. The video description gives more details of what you are looking at, but it shows earthworks now underway at most locations and a site access road now built. Most of the work seems to be at the topsoil level, but there are signs of more substantial earthworks in a few places.

29 Jun 2017: Work has now been underway on this scheme for over a month, and already there is a lot of progress. Site yards have appeared and portable buildings painted in Graham (the contractor) colours can be seen both between Randalstown and Toome and on the Castledawson Bypass. I have two sets of photos which I haven't asked for premission to reproduce here and hence am going to link to them instead. The first two photos are on Facebook here and were taken by Aerial Vision NI. They show two views of the Randalstown to Toome stretch, taken from a spot about two miles west of the end of the M22. The top photo is the view east towards Randalstown, and the one below it is looking west towards Toome. In the top photo you can see the existing A6 on the left with site clearance and earthworks very evident. Much of the earthworks appear to be fairly close to existing ground level, but in the second picture you can see several excavators on an area of dark earth. They appear to be in a field that's not part of the scheme, so it may be a temporary area used to store fill from elsewhere. The second three photos were shared on Twitter here by Kevin Bateson a few days ago. They show work on the Castledawson Bypass, specifically the area on the western bank of the Moyola River, and taken from the existing A6. The bridge here is due to be widened (or replaced?) to accommodate the dual-carriageway, which will be a major job. The first picture appears to show a large excavation on the south west side the bridge, which would be in keeping with the construction of new bridge foundations. So progress appears to be good. Less progress can be reported on the legal challenge, which is why no construction is taking place between Toome and the Moyola River. Environmentalist Chris Murphy is appealing his lost legal case against TransportNI. This was due to be heard two days ago for but reasons reported by the BBC here, it has been adjourned for another six weeks until mid August. Hopefully this can be settled one way or the other on that date, which seems likely as the Appeal Court has indicated they will give judgement on the same day. This implies that the judge regards it as a fairly straightforward question. I recently wrote an opinion piece on the subject.

16 May 2017: Just a quick update to share an aerial movie of work underway on this scheme, taken from a drone by John Toner on 10 May. The footage is taken on the Randalstown to Toome stretch, and begins by looking east from approximately here. After about a minute moving east the video halts and goes west again. What is evident is how much has happened in the past fortnight since proper construction began - access roads have appeared along the whole stretch, excavation of cuttings is underway and a whole series of culverts (to carry watercourses) appear to be under construction. It is great to see so much work evident after such a short time, and I am sure the glorious weather of early May will have helped too. With thanks to John Toner for sharing this with us all.

2 May 2017: The Department for Infrastructure today announced that they have at last signed the main construction contract for the scheme and that proper construction work will begin within the next few weeks. Until now the only work that has taken place has been site clearance and archaeology which gets the site ready for work, but doesn't involve building anything permanent. However, DFI have also said that they will only be commencing work now on part of the scheme, namely the full Randalstown to Toome stretch, plus the western end of the Toome to Castledawson stretch, namely the bit west of the Moyola river as far as Castledawson roundabout. As this talk of parts of parts of the scheme is getting utterly confusing I've produced the map below to try to clarify what's going on:

The reason they are not starting work on the bit between the Moyola river and Toome is that it is highly likely that environmentalist Chris Murphy is about to launch another legal challenge (an appeal to March's ruling in favour of the DFI). He had been given four weeks, ie up until 25 April, to do this but I understand the judge later extended this to six weeks, which if correct would be Tuesday 9 May (I haven't confirmed this date). Currently there is nothing legally preventing DFI starting work on the entire scheme, since they won the legal case, but it seems that they have decided not to create unnecessary difficulties by proceeding on this bit ahead of the appeal.

The key point is that the eastern half of the scheme, Randalstown to Toome, will be starting imminently and is unaffected by the legal challenge. I see nothing to make me think that this element is in any danger, and it will likely be completed and be in use by the end of 2019, which will be very welcome for road users, especially since the legal challenge has already created a seven month delay. This eastern stretch is also the more badly needed of the two, being the lower standard of the two stretches. The western half of the scheme, Toome to Castledawson is looking more uncertain. If DFI win the presumed appeal then they can proceed with that stretch too, though the timescale is longer, with completion expected around 2021. Some have said that today's announcement means that there will now be no road close to Mossbawn or Lough Beg, but that conclusion is not justified as it will go ahead if Chris Murphy loses the appeal. But if Chris Murphy wins then this stretch would be back to the drawing board. Given the length of time for planning a major new road (usually a minimum of 3 years), tendering (if required, perhaps 9 months) and construction (another 4 years) Mr Murphy winning the legal challenge could mean that it could be 2025 before an ugprade to this part of the A6 is completed. However it is also worth noting that DFI have successfully defended their planning process up until now, and there is no particular reason to think they'd lose an appeal. Today they said "The Department will work to bring any future legal proceedings regarding this section of the route to a conclusion as soon as possible".

Having said all of that, there would be certain things about the decade-old design that could cetainly be improved should DFI be forced to go back to the drawing board for the western stretch. Apart from possibly changing the proposed route of the road, they could also delete the unnecessary Deerpark Road junction, and grade-separate the junctions on the existing Toome Bypass as should have been planned from the start. After all, if a connection to Deerpark Road, a minor rural road, can be financially justified as a full grade-separated junction, how on earth can not providing one at Drumderg or Roguery Road roundabouts in Toome be justified? Going back to the drawing board could allow such anomalies to be removed.

13 Apr 2017: Environmentalist Chris Murphy, who lost his legal challenge to the scheme last month, confirmed in a new court appeatrance on 5 April that he DOES intend to launch an appeal (see Mid Ulster Mail article). In a new court hearing he sought an immediate injunction to stop any work on the relevant portion of the scheme (apparently, the Creagh to Hillhead Road stretch), which the judge refused to grant, saying it should instead form part of any appeal. He has until 25 April to lodge an appeal. Mr Murphy also confirmed in court that although he had had his costs for the previous challenge capped at £5000 (with the remainder being funded by the taxpayer) he cannot afford to pay this amount, leaving it unclear who will pay for the shortfall. Even though TransportNI are currently free to go ahead and commence construction, it appears that they have only carried out very limited work since they won the legal challenge and the main construction contract has not yet been signed. Regardless of what happens with the planned appeal, I see no reason why work could not at least begin on the Randalstown to Toome stretch, though building it in two stages is likely to cost the taxpayer more money as the contractor will lose economies of scale.

29 Mar 2017: On Tuesday 27 March the judge gave her verdict on environmentalist Chris Murphy's legal challenge, exactly 6 months after he launched it. She dismissed his challenge and ruled that, contrary to his argued case, the Department for Infrastructure had carried out its environmental assessments appropriately, that they were based on up-to-date information and that they were accurate. She particularly noted that both the NIEA and RSPB had withdrawn their objections to the scheme. DFI welcomed the announcement. The upshot of this ruling is that work on the scheme can proceed immediately. Chris Murphy has six weeks to appeal and in subsequent media interviews he stated that he intends to do so. For example, he disputes the mitigation measures that NIEA and RSPB were responding to, although on what legal basis he would appeal is not clear from the inverviews. He said that he would ask the judge to give an injunction preventing DFI starting work on the affected section (which, since he destibed it as "2 miles" long presumably means the Creagh to Hillhead Road stretch only, ie the stretch that passes near Lough Beg). It is hard to see why the DFI would agree to this unless compelled to do so, since the scheme has passed its public inquiry, has the political approval of the last Executive (from both Sinn Fein and the DUP), has a financial allocation, has now been ruled lawful and has already been delayed by six months by this challenge, whcih has presumably cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in the form of additional costs incurred by the contractor putting staff and machinery on hold. So, barring an inunction from a judge, I would expect to see proper earthworks getting underway on both halves of the scheme in the very near future. Even if an injunction were to be granted, work will at the very least be able to continue on the Randalstown to Toome stretch. In date terms, I would expect to see Randalstown to Toome open by the end of 2019 and the Toome to Castledawson stretch by late 2020.

Ahead of the ruling DFI has done a lote of preliminary site clearance work, mostly cutting down trees and hedges and creation of site yards but not any actual construction work. DFI also took possession of the only home impacted by the scheme about a month ago (the Vesting Order was not part of the legal challenge). I drove along this part of the A6 last week and it was clear that the site clearance work was essentially complete. But we are assisted by Scott Smith who took a nice shot a few days ago on the stretch between Randalstown and Toome showing how trees and hedges have been removed, fencing to demark the vested land erected and a site yard established.

View north-east along Ballynafey Road (see here for location) on 24 Mar 2017 showing fencing around the vested land (on right), a site yard (left foreground), tree felling (top right) and hedge removal (along road). At this location the new dual-carriageway will run from the top right to bottom left, in a cutting, and pass undernearth this local road which will be raised onto a bridge. [Scott Smith]

26 Feb 2017: The judicial review was finally heard in Belfast on 20th and 21st February. To recap, construction of this road was due to have begun in October 2016 but has been on hold since then due to a legal challenge brought by environmentalist Chris Murphy. Mr Murphy presented his case on 20th as reported here. Referring to the half of the scheme that lies between Toome and Castledawson, Mr Murphy argued that it has an unacceptable impact on a habitat used by migrating swans close to Lough Beg. Legally speaking, it is his contention that the DFI has not carried out an adequate assessment of the impact on this habitat because the original survey work was done over ten years ago and some factors have materially changed in that time. He claimed that the DFI had tried to "circumvent" the procedures around such matters. Some have also objected to the route on the grounds that it goes close to Seamus Heaney's home and passes through a culturally-significant landscape referred to repeatedly in his poetry. However this point didn't seem to feature in the court case. The DFI presented their defence on 21st as reported here. They admit that the route passes close to the overwintering swan habitat, but point out that it doesn't pass through it and claim that swans have been observed feeding right up to the edge of the Toome Bypass (which opened just over ten years ago, and also passes close by) and hence the road is unlikely to impact the swans. They argued that any impact on the habitat would be "small". They further argued that the Vesting Orders (which compel landowners to sell the land required for the road to the DFI) were not being challenged by Mr Murphy, which meant that if the judge ruled against the DFI, they would be left holding acres of vested land paid for by the public purse but with no use for it. The judge will now take some time, perhaps some weeks, to consider the cases made by the two sides and will then make a final ruling. This ruling will make clear the next steps for this scheme.

8 Feb 2017: The long-awaited judicial review that has caused the main construction contract to be on hold since October is to be heard later in February. In the interim, a preliminary siteworks contract continues with a lot of tree-felling work evident on both the Randalstown to Toome and Toome to Castledawson stretches in the past weeks. The outgoing DFI Minister has released a short video on Twitter which contains some aerial shots of the works underway - the start of the sceme at Randalstown is seen around 00:10, an area around Drumderg Roundabout in Toome at 00:31 and finally the terminus at Castledawson roundabout around 00:40. The legal challenge is only to the western half of the scheme (Toome to Castledawson) and the Minister seems confident that the outcome of the judicial review will, at the very least, allow the main construction contract to begin on the Randalstown to Toome stretch in March after the judicial review outcome is known. This would be very good news for supporters of the scheme. We will have to wait for the judicial review itself to know for sure since it will ultimately by up to the judge to decide on this point, and there is a worse-case possibility that a judgement against the western half could impact the eastern half too. The best-case scenario, for the DFI, would be that they win the judicial review in its entirely. In the video the Minister also says that "the money for this project is secured" and that is correct, since the full amount has already been budgeted and approved by the Executive (December 2015), and a contractor is already in place, and hence even the election and the possible delay in the creation of a new Executive should not impact on commencement of this scheme.

1 Jan 2017: This update has been added merely to note what has not happened since leave was granted in November for a judicial review into the Toome to Castledawson stretch of this scheme (the western half). There was a question at the time as to whether this would also delay the eastern part of the scheme, Toome to Randalstown, even though the judicial review did not affect it and the answer now seems to be “yes”. Work on the main contract was to have begun in October, and it is now the start of 2017 and it has still not begun. To date the only work that has taken place is a separate advanced site works contract (thing like vegetation clearance, archaeology). In a Written Answer in the Assembly on 14 December (AQW 8404/16-21) the Minister noted that the legal hearing doesn’t seem too far away: “A Judicial Review hearing … relating to the Habitats Directive will be heard early in the new year”. He then went on to note that “if the outcome of the hearing goes against my Department, contingency measures are being explored to advance this section to construction in this financial year”. That wording suggests that we will see NO work take place on any of the main contract before we know the outcome of the legal challenge. This unfortunately means that the Toome-Randalstown stretch will be delated by perhaps six months, which will be frustrating given that (a) it is the worst standard stretch of the entire A6 and (b) is not being challenged by Chris Murphy. The Minister’s wording also does not sound definitive as to whether it will actually be possible to advance part of the scheme if the hearing goes against the Department. That presumably is dependent on the outcome of the judicial review.

24 Nov 2016: Today the judge gave his verdict to the application for a judicial review into this scheme, and has decided to grant leave. There is so much to say on this subject that I have explored it more fully over on my blog. But for the purposes of this progress update, this means that there will be a further legal hearing, probably in January with a judgement expected some weeks after that. If the challenge succeeds then the western half of the scheme (Toome to Castledawson) may not be going ahead for several years. If the challenge fails, then work on the western half could get underway early in 2017. What the implications are for the eastern half (Randalstown to Toome) is less clear. This portion was not subject to the legal challenge, though it is part of the same construction contract, and the Minister has said the he is keen to explore options for proceeding with it straight away. Whether this is possible will depend on exactly what environmental assessments are affected by the challenge and whether these overlap with the eastern part of the scheme. Certainly one of the Minister's advisors seemed confident tonight. Once again we are in the position of waiting.

14 Nov 2016: As stated in the previous update, the application for a judicial review into this scheme, which has been brought by a private individual (Chris Murphy) is currently underway. The first date (28 Oct) was not sufficient to hear all the evidence and the hearing was adjourned. A second date has now been set of 10am on 21 Nov 2016. Hopefully this second date will provide sufficient time to hear all the evidence and allow the judge to come to a decision as to whether to allow the judicial review. The evidence that has been presented so far has gone into considerable depth, so we will have to reserve comment on the matter until we hear what the judge makes of it all. Meanwhile, the advance site works contract is still underway - this is separate from the main construction work which is currently on hold.

28 Oct 2016: The legal challenge (application for a judicial review into the A6 dualling scheme) was heard today in the High Court in Belfast. According to Seamus Leheny (FTA), who attended the hearing, the substance of the challenge was "quite in depth but focused on legality of environmental habitat assessment". Unfortunately the hearing ran out of time today and has been adjourned and will have to wait until another day is allocated at the High Court to hear more. Part of the legal challenge is a request that the court stop construction work. Although a separate advance site works contract is currently underway, the main contract has not yet begun. Since the legal challenge only affects the western half of the scheme (Toome To Castledawson) the big question is whether or not work on the the eastern half of the scheme (Randalstown to Toome, aka the notorious Moneynick Road) can begin in the interim since it is unaffected by the legal challenge. Nobody seems to be able to give me a straight answer to this simple question. Two things are clear: (1) the scheme is legally in two halves, ie they went through all the statutory processes independently (2) both are, however, being built by the contractor as part of a single contract which was awarded to Graham/Farrans joint venture. I was recently contacted by a resident impacted by the scheme who said the same thing: that both TransportNI and the contractor had assured them that the two halves were separate, but yet a Sinn Fein special advisor to the Deputy First Minister has said that the entire contract has had to be stopped because of the legal challenge. The Minister seemed to say the same thing in a Written Answer in the Assembly ( AQW 4475/16-21) when he said "the Department is completing preliminary advance works which had commenced prior to the receipt of the Application for Leave papers. The main construction works are not being progressed." I have asked this question directly several times but have not had a clear reply, so perhaps nobody actually knows the exact situation. One other thing is clear - works were supposed to get underway in October, and it is now the 28th and it has not started, so this at least suggests that no work is going to take place on either bit of the new dual-carriageway until this legal challenge is settled. This will be immensely frustrating both to road users and the contractor, and indeed for those whose properties are affected since their plans to move house are now also on hold pending a possible overturning of the Vesting Order. Let's hope that the Courts can conclude this hearing to give some certainty to everyone affected within a short timeframe.

2 Oct 2016: The "Vesting Order" for this scheme became active on 27 September. This is the legal procedure that transfers ownership of the land required for the scheme to the Department for Infrastructure, although the exact amount of financial compensation has yet to be worked out in all cases. On the same day a "private individual" lodged a legal objection to part of this scheme at Belfast High Court. The scheme is legally composed of two parts (Randalstown to Toome and Toome to Castledawson) and as far as I can tell the legal action only affects the second part. Therefore work on the Randalstown to Toome section can commence on the ground as planned during October under the contractor, Graham/Farrans Joint Venture. This stretch is almost entirely offline so regular road users will probably not notice much happening as the work will largely take place out of sight of the existing A6.

Whether work can start on the Toome to Castledawson section will depend on what the High Court makes of the legal challenge, and it's not yet known what grounds the objection are being made on. If the legal challenge fails then work can begin on this stretch, too, within the next few weeks. The main objection seems to be that it passes close by Seamus Heaney's former home and through a landscape that inspired a number of poems. A concert was held in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast last week by opponents of the scheme. This week saw a bit of a war of words about the scheme with Seamus Heaney's brother suggesting that local people, including himself, supported the scheme whereas Seamus Heaney's son questioned the route that the road is to take. Certainly a web page set up to crowdsource funding for the legal challenge isn't particularly compelling in terms of indicating widespread support. But the challenge will be decided on legality, not popular opinion, and so it is Court's decision that we must wait for.

17 Sep 2016: A lengthy update today as there is much to say. We are now very close to this scheme finally getting underway - the final detailed design has been ongoing for some months, and construction work is due to get underway within the next few weeks with the contractor (Graham/Farrans) already gearing up to begin. Only a few days ago we learned that there was to be a legal challenge to the A5 scheme, but yesterday we learned that opponents to this scheme on the A6 (a different group from those challenging the A5) intend to launch a last-minute legal challenge to this scheme. It seems that the concerns focus on the impact on the landscape here, which was once home to Seamus Heaney, and its impact on wildlife. I outline these concerns in more detail below. All these issues were, of course, discussed at the Public Inquiry in 2007 and from reading the Environmental Statement there is no doubt that it is an environmentally sensitive area. TransportNI’s proposals passed the 2007 Public Inquiry and from TransportNI’s point of view that ought to be the end of the matter. However, the issues that were discussed back then remain concerns for those involved and it seems that the imminent start of construction has brought them back into public light. For example tomorrow night a concert is being held at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast to raise awareness of the issues - a most interesting event, as I believe it is the first time a concert has ever been held to oppose a road scheme in Northern Ireland!

I have been in touch, via Twitter, with one of the leaders of the opposition group, James Orr (who works for Friends of the Earth though note that FoE is not the group launching the legal action). Mr Orr clarified that the challenge is being brought because of what he feels is “several flawed assessments”, specifically the absence of a Strategic Environmental Assessment to look at alternatives, what he believes to be a flawed Environmental Impact Assessment, and “out of date info, eg this land now floods”. Conor Macauley of the BBC has also put together a video exploring the objections and TransportNI's response. The requirement on TransportNI to carry out appropriate assessments is all set out in law. A legal challenge can be brought if someone has reason to believe that the Department for Infrastructure not carrying out its work in a way that complies with legislation. It is important to stress that it is every citizen’s right to launch such a challenge as part of the process of government accountability. If the legal challenge succeeds then it would mean that the Department had not complied with legislation, in which case the challengers would be vindicated, the Department would be at fault and the road could be delayed by several years or possibly not be built at all. If the legal challenge fails, then it would mean that the Department had complied with legislation, i.e. had done everything properly, and construction of the road could proceed as planned. We will have to see which outcome results.

It has to be said that one weakness in the Department’s position is that it is now nine years since the scheme had its public inquiry, and seven years since it was deemed to have passed the Inquiry via the Departmental Statement. At that time I don’t think anyone in what was then Roads Service anticipated that it would take this long for funding to be allocated by the Executive, which is the fundamental cause of the nine year delay. It is conceivable (though I don’t know either way) that something material might have changed in that time and the legal challenge may zero in on this question. (If that turns out to be a make-or-break issue, it will impact other schemes that have had their public inquiries but not proceeded to construction, such as the A55 Outer Ring upgrade at Knock in Belfast which had its public inquiry in 2010 but has still not begun.) Additionally elements of the Departmental Statement released in 2009 contained statements of intent to carry out work as part of the scheme which have since been quietly abandoned, e.g. the grade-separation of Drumderg roundabout on the existing Toome Bypass. This, too, may be a weakness in the Department’s position, though again I do not know whether that is actually the case. The courts will have to judge.

Leaving aside the merits, or otherwise, of the legal challenge this will be frustrating to supporters of the scheme, mainly residents of the North West, business interests in the North West and the travelling public because this is the lowest-standard stretch of road between the province’s two cities and has a poor safety record. An upgrade to the stretch has been planned since 1964 and politicians in the North West have been campaigning for a road upgrade for some decades, and we are now closer than at any point since the 1960s to it actually happening. The organisation most likely to be upset by a delay is Sinn Fein, and in particular Martin McGuinness who has made upgrades to the A5 and A6 critical policies for the Executive and they will be particularly frustrated that both schemes are being subjected to legal challenges and potential delays simultaneously. Whatever way the legal challenge goes it is likely to create heated debate, as has certainly been evident on Twitter over the past 24 hours. I think it is fair to say that everyone involved is sincere in only wanting what is best for society - they simply disagree on what the “best” actually is.

17 Aug 2016: The new DfI Minister held a press conference this morning where he announced that construction of this scheme will begin in October. The scheme already has both funding and a contractor, but time has been occupied over the past few months by detailed design work and completing the statutory processes for the one outstanding junction (see previous update below). He said that archaeological work would begin within the next week and the Vesting Order will be "made" in September. The Vesting Order is the legal document that transfers ownership of the land from the landowners to TransportNI. It has existed in draft form for some years now, but the formal "making" of the Vesting Order is what makes it actually happen. The contractor, Graham/Farrans Joint Venture, will be getting to work on the ground in October. This scheme has one of the longest construction periods I have seen for a road scheme in many years. The Minister said that the eastern part (Randalstown to Toome) would be opening in 2019, with the western part, which has more environmental constraints such as Whooper Swans, opening in 2020. I did raise my eyebrows at the estimated cost of £160m, given that the Minister quoted a figure of £150m only two months ago, and in late 2014 the cost was still being given as £120-140m. So there have apparently been some last minute cost escalations. The scheme is very positive - first and foremost it will upgrade the worst standard section of the entire Belfast-Derry route, which has claimed many lives over the years and really needs a safety improvement. Secondly, it will make the journey that little bit easier and also more reliable in time terms, while reducing the congestion at Toome in the rush hour. The only down side is the decision to retain the existing roundabouts on the Toome Bypass. I have said many times that I think this is a mistake akin to creating another Hillsborough roundabout situation. I am quite sure in 20 years we will be talking about why this was done and will be considering an upgrade. But I do not want to be negative either - the scheme is overwhelmingly a good thing, and great news that it is finally going ahead. One piece of trivia to end - the A31 Magherafelt Bypass is currently under construction and is due to be completed in October. Both it and this A6 scheme terminate at the Castledawson roundabout. So for a few weeks in October we will have two separate road schemes underway at the same time, both of which terminate at the same place, a rare event indeed!

Deidre Mackle (TransportNI Divisional Roads Manager), Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard and Andrew Hitchenor (Strategic Road Improvements Manager at TransportNI) at today's press conference. Image from here.

9 Aug 2016: It's been seven months since the previous update. Not much has been visible on the ground, but plenty has been going on behind the scenes. Firstly, the controversial Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road grade separate junction has finally been settled after three public inquiries. On 18 May 2016 the DfI (the department which has taken over from the old DRD) issued their Departmental Statement which confirms that following the third public inquiry they are proceeding with the revised design. This was the only major outstanding design issue that could impact on project start so it is great that that is now resolved. Detailed design work has been ongoing during the spring and summer and is almost complete. Archaeological works are due to begin later this month. The contractor could possibly be on site, then, in late September ("subject to final approval of the business case" within the DFI of course). One place that will be a restriction on the contractor is the stretch between Toome and Deerpark Road junction which crosses a feeding round for Whooper Swans. This means that no work can take place on this stretch between September and March, so work there will have be focused on the late spring and summer. Finally, in a Written Answer in the Assembly in mid June (AQW 372/16-21), the DfI Minister quietly slipped in that the total cost of the scheme has now risen to £150m (up from £120-140m as of November 2014), representing a further rise. The cost is now more than double the estimate of £70m in 2006. This sort of cost escalation is repeated in almost every road scheme as it progresses through planning and is a combination of progressively more complex designs and early optimism. If the scheme does begin in September 2016, then adding the (rather lengthy) three-and-a-half year construction timescale to this, completion can be expected in early 2020!

28 Jan 2016: A long update tonight as there is much to say! In a Written Answer in the Assembly last week (AQW 52171/11-16) the DRD Minister gave more information about timescales for the start of this scheme. She explained that there is still "ongoing detailed design work [which] will be complete by spring / summer 2016". In other words, the scheme was not quite "shovel ready" as I had thought when the money was allocated. She goes on to say that the project will "commence in summer / autumn 2016". This is a bit later than she said in the Assembly a few weeks ago (see update below for 11 January) so it suggests there is still a good bit of work to be done before the bulldozers can roll in. The DRD have now placed PDFs of the current design of the scheme on their web site. The current "detailed design" work will not affect this design much - it is more likely to be more technical design such as the depths of excavations required, extent of piling for bridge structures etc. This scheme is extremely welcome, since the Moneynick Road in particular (the bit from the end of the motorway at Randalstown to Toome) is the most sub-standard part of the entire Belfast-Derry road.

Next, I want to comment on the duration of the scheme. I was rather taken aback by quotes from the DRD quoted in the media two weeks ago that the scheme would take "three and a half years" to complete. This is a good bit longer than the "24 months" estimate given in 2010 and seems an astonishingly long time for 8 miles of road - the A1 Newry Bypas for example is 8 miles long and took two and a half years despite requiring explosives to blast away thousands of tonnes of rock. I had hoped that this was a misunderstanding, but I spoke to an official at the DRD who confirmed this timescale and said this was based on the A8 Larne dualling scheme, recently completed, that also took a similar length of time. Now, this is true (that scheme lasted 3 years and 4 months) but it does give us some hope, because in the case of the Larne scheme the road was fully open after 2 years and 9 months, and the remaining 7 months were occupied by landscaping works. So I would say, fear not - it's likely that the road will be in use sooner than three and a half years. The most straightforward stretch is Randalstown to Toome, since it is entirely offline away from the current road and has no junctions on it, so I would place money money on this stretch being open and in use within two years or so of project commencement (say, by autumn 2018), with the Toome to Castledawson section following after perhaps three years (so, late 2019).

Now I cannot continue without mentioning the two existing roundabouts on the Toome Bypass. Although the Departmental Statement issued back in 2009 explicitly stated that the DRD would grade-separate at least one of them, Drumderg roundabout, as part of the scheme, this no longer seems to be happening. We know that the Roads Service Board approved a plan to upgrade the Toome Bypass in January 2009. Minutes of a DRD Board meeting I saw back then (but no longer online) say "The Board discussed Mr White’s 22 January 2009 paper, A6 Randalstown to Castledawson Dualling, and approved the recommendations listed to amend the design at the Annaghmore and Bellshill Road junctions, grade–separate the Drunderg roundabout, remove the Roguery Road roundabout and the Castledawson roundabout to remain ‘at grade’." In December 2009 the DRD even published a plan for how they would upgrade the Toome Bypass on their web site (see my update below for Dec 2009) but this document now seems to have disappeared. The fact that Roguery Road and Drumderg Roundabouts will remain in situ after this project is complete is a mistake that mars an otherwise excellent project. The two roundabouts sit right in the middle of the dualling scheme. Two of the key objectives of the scheme are to "reduce journey times" and to "reduce congestion and delays". These roundabouts clearly increase journey times and will create delays - when compared to a free-flowing road. The roundabouts will also be anomalies in that they will be the only at-grade junctions between York Street in Belfast and Castledawson - every other junction will be grade separated. I do not accept the DRD's explanation that the roundabouts are justified because they have sufficient capacity. They are factually correct that the roundabouts will have sufficient capacity, but this argument does not make sense in light of the stated objectives of the dualling scheme as quoted above. If this logic were carried though, every junction on the upgaded road might as well be built as an at-grade roundabout. Nor does this explanantion explain the enthusiastic plan to upgrade the Bypass that was approved in 2009. The "Toome roundabouts" will become the "Hillsborough roundabout" of the A6. I have asked but nobody at TransportNI seems to be able to offer any explanation for why neither of these roundabouts is now to be removed.

11 Jan 2016: In a press release yesterday, and today in the Assembly, the DRD Minister announced what we widely expected, namely that this scheme will be going ahead soon (see my blog). I had predicted that work would begin in April, based on the fact that this is when the funding allocation would begin and the fact that the scheme was "shovel read". However, the dates given today are slightly later than this - the press release says "work on site expected to start by the end of the summer", although in the Assembly the Minister said "We are hoping that it is going to happen at the start of the summer". Why the later date than I anticipated? The press release states that the detailed design work I mentioned in the November update below is still ongoing: saying "detailed design work is progressing". So it seems that the scheme is not quite shovel ready. But we'll not be churlish on this point, since it's certainly a lot closer to being shovel ready than it would have been had the previous DRD Minister not progressed the lengthy procurement process over the past year. So what happens next? The DRD have to actually buy the land needed (known as "making" the Vesting Order) so this will also have to happen once the money is available (April). Once the land is purchased it will need to be fenced off - this is usually the first thing observers actually see happening on the ground - followed by vegetation clearance. The contractor will also need time to gear up, constructing their site yards and getting machinery and portacabins etc onto the site. Only after all that will we see actual earthworks starting, and it looks as if we can expect that to be underway during the summer. In terms of timescale, the last official estimate in 2010 was that it would last 24 months, but I haven't seen an updated estimate. The Minister seemed rather vague on the point, saying only that "with a fair wind, it should be completed around 2019" (in the Assembly today). Even January 2019 would be about two and a half years after a summer commencement, and I would hope that it wouldn't take much longer than that. I would be a bit more optimistic and say it could be complete before the end of 2018 - but that's not "official"! Road users should not experience too much disruption during the works since the road is almost entirely offline - except for a couple of locations either side of Toome, and a short stretch at the Castledawson end where the new road subsumes the 1992 Castledawson Bypass. Finally, once work gets underway we will have a very rare scenario where two independent road schemes under active construction terminate at the same point - the A31 Magherafelt Bypass also terminates on the Castledawson roundabout and is also under construction. Let's hope the two sets of contractors don't get in each other's way!

19 Dec 2015: Two days ago the Finance Minister delivered her budget for the next financial year. This budget included funding of £21m in the 2016/17 financial year (April to March) for the A6 and also committed £57m, £60m, £60m and £60m for the following four years. This is more than enough money to allow this scheme to be built. Given that it is "shovel ready", ie all planning is completed and a contractor is in place, I think it is highly likely, therefore, that construction on this scheme will commence in April 2016 and be the next major road scheme in Northern Ireland, allaying the fears I expressed in the previous update. This timescale is my own speculation, and has not been confirmed by the DRD, but I cannot think of any reason why this should not be the case.

29 Nov 2015: This is currently the only road scheme that is "shovel ready", but not yet commenced, in Northern Ireland. Over the past year I have taken the view that this scheme will be the next major road scheme in Northern Ireland to get funding to proceed to construction. I still think this, but it has to be noted that the degree of support that has been given to the A5 project by the DUP and Sinn Fein (in the document "A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan" published on 17 November) means that there is a possibility that it will get pushed down the priority list. However, it remains the case that this scheme is the only one that is ready to go to construction right now (even the A5 still needs another public inquiry, while York Street interchange has only just had its inquiry) so if funding were to be come available within the next few months, this scheme is the only real contender. Beyond a few months these two other schemes will approach a "shovel ready" state themselves, which would muddy the waters a bit in terms of what could go ahead first. Meanwhile, design work is continuing on this scheme. This has involved some site investigation works over the past month or two, which are now completed. These include locating and monitoring ground water levels, and the work will have been evident to road users passing by. To be clear, this is not construction work on the road itself - these works are intended to inform the detailed design process. With thanks to Patrick Duffy for some observations on this scheme.

29 Oct 2015: It seems that a minor Public Inquiry was held on 29 September into the Vesting Order for the Bellshill/Annaghmore junction. This one sneaked past me, and I only found out about it when the documents were posted on the DRD web site this week. The Inquiry was very limited in scope: not examining the proposed bypass, or even the proposals for this junction, but merely the decision to vest extra land in order to excavate an extra area of low ground to provide capacity for floodwater during heavy rain. The transcript of the public inquiry shows that it was not a rubber-stamping exercise, but involved some debating which got rather heated on occasion. It does not say whether or not the Inspector has produced his report (unlikely in just four weeks), or what his recommendations might be, but I would be surprised if the Inspector's Report does not approve the plan. With the Deputy First Minister recently suggesting that progress on the A5 and A6 are "red line" issues for him, I am still of the view that this scheme will be the next major road scheme in Northern Ireland to get the go-ahead, even against the other scheme that seems to be a high priority, the York Street Interchange in Belfast. If it does not, then I think there would be something wrong with the decision making progress.

13 May 2015: It was announced yesterday that the contract for construction of this road was awarded to Graham/Farrans joint venture on 1 May. It is important to stress that even though the scheme has gone through all its statutory processes and a contractor appointed the scheme is not going to be built just yet, because as yet there is no money for it. What it does mean, though, is that Graham/Farrans will now progress the design of the road up to the point that work could begin within weeks of money being secured. This process by which a contractor is involved in detailed design ahead of actual construction is called "Early Contractor Involvement" (ECI) and it has been used very successfully on other recent schemes, such as the A8 dualling to Larne. TransportNI seem convinced that ECI brings benefits in terms of foreseeing problems earlier on when they are cheaper to resolve so expect to see it become standard on large schemes in the years ahead. As far as I know the Vesting Order (which compels landowners to sell the land needed to TransportNI) has not yet been "made" (ie, they haven't actually pressed the button and bought the land). So when money does get allocated to this scheme you can expect to see the Vesting Order being "made" as the first step, and then construction getting underway as the second step. TransportNI are saying nothing publicly about when the scheme might begin, but some folks I've spoken to seem privately hopeful that money will be secured within two years. Having said that, there is an Assembly election in that period, so we may have a new DRD Minister by then, so who knows? Nevertheless, I would be very surprised indeed if this is not the next major road scheme to get funding in Northern Ireland.

28 Jan 2015: The good news for this scheme is that the last remaining obstacle - the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road has been resolved. Planning permission was granted on 3 December 2014, which means that the scheme is now 'good to go'. A process to appoint a contractor has been underway now since July. As explained in the update on 14 Aug 2014 (below) this is to get the scheme "shovel-ready" so that it can begin if money becomes available. The Northern Ireland budget for 2015-16 was published earlier this month, and unfortunately TransportNI have been given no funding for this (or indeed, any further) new road schemes for the period 2015/16. So that means that, while a contractor will likely be appointed during the first half of 2015, there is no prospect of construction beginning before April 2016 at the earliest.

7 Dec 2014: There have been a few developments in this scheme. Firstly, the process to appoint a contractor for the scheme is ongoing. As noted in the previous update (below) this is to get the scheme "shovel-ready" so that it can begin if money becomes available. Currently there is no funding allocation to the scheme, so the appointment of a contractor does not mean construction will get underway. However in the minutes of a TransportNI board meeting held on 1 October (but just published) there is the comment that "DFP [Department of Finance] has given approval to proceed with the Phase 1 of the project". This is a critical comment, since a funding allocation from DFP is the one remaining obstacle to the scheme getting underway once a contractor is appointed. Note however the reference to "Phase 1", which appears to mean that the funding is NOT for the whole of the scheme from Randalstown to Castledawson, but only part of it. It does not explain what "Phase 1" refers to; however I would speculate that it refers to the easternmost stretch from Randalstown to Toome which has been through all statutory processes and has no obstacles other than finance to overcome. The westernmost stretch still has one outstanding issue, which is the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which remains stuck in the planning process. Interestingly the Planning Service web site says that a decision on this issue was made on "3 December" but the site does not yet say what the decision is. We will have to wait and see. Finally, in the Assembly on 18 November the Minister confirmed that the cost estimate for the scheme is now £120-140m. This is a bit more than the previous estimate of £100-120m given in 2010. I am still of the view that this scheme will be the next new road scheme in Northern Ireland to get funding (the previous two being the A31 Magherafelt Bypass and the A26 Frosses Road dualling which are both due to begin in 2015).

14 Aug 2014: The tender for construction of this scheme was finally released on 28 July 2014, much later than anticipated back in March (see below). Strictly speaking what has been released is merely the first round of the process, during which a list of prospective tenderers is drawn up. The "proper" tender process will then take place afterwards out of the public eye. But to the layperson it's all part of a single process that results in a contractor being appointed. The total cost of the construction work (ie, not including land purchase and planning costs) is given as £95m-£115m. As this is quite close to the overall project cost of £100m-£120m being given in April 2010, the final cost including land could well come in higher than this. Contractors have until 28 August to express interest in tendering, with the tender itself due to be released to selected contractors on 17 November. We could therefore expect to see a contractor appointed during the Spring of 2015. It is important to stress that, unlike other recent schemes, this scheme has no funding to proceed to construction, so the appointment of a contractor will NOT lead to work beginning on the ground (unless money is given to the scheme by the Department of Finance in the interim). The plan seems to be that the scheme can be got ready to a point that, should money be made available at some point in the future, construction can begin rapidly, perhaps within a matter of weeks, since the contractor will have been appointed. This is not an ideal situation for the winning contractor, but the best that can be achieved in the circumstances, and is laid plan by observing that the time limit for completion of the work is given as 28 February 2026, which is appropriately vague!. Meanwhile, there has been no movement over the past 6 months on the main outstanding issue, which is the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which remains frustratingly mired in the planning process.

1 Mar 2014: The DRD web site is now giving notice of a construction tender, to be released in April 2014. Procurement normally takes about 9 months, so we could expect to see a contractor appointed by January or February 2015. However, this scheme has not yet been given any funding, so what is going on? It seems that this is a "no value Framework contract" (explained here) which splits the contract into two parts: design, and then construction, but with no guarantee that the construction phase will actually occur. This is similar to the way the contractors for the A5 scheme were appointed. The DRD explain that "This form of contract allows the appointment of a contractor and progresses the scheme to a “shovel ready” position, allowing construction to commence immediately funding is confirmed." Presumably the hope is that the scheme can be got ready to a point that, should money be made available at some point in the future, construction can begin rapidly, perhaps within a matter of weeks. This would seem to be a sensible approach. The only other outstanding issue is the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which is still awaiting planning approval.

5 Nov 2013: Although this scheme has failed to get an allocation in the latest funding round to allow construction to begin in the period April 2014-April 2015, it was given a smaller allocation to allow design and preparation work to continue which will at least ensure that it is "shovel ready" when money does become available. There is the outstanding matter of the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which is still awaiting planning approval. The NI Executive's position on this scheme remains unclear. The Finance Minister who made the announcement said "Importantly, the A6 preparatory work does not commit the Executive contractually to that project. The Executive took the view that, until there is clarity on the A5 project, we cannot afford to commit contractually to the A6 project, since delivering both in parallel is unaffordable without there being a serious detrimental impact on all other departmental capital budgets." This seems to mean that the A6 scheme is so expensive (almost twice the price of the A26 dualling scheme north of Glarryford that did get funding) that the DRD is not prepared to go ahead with it while there is still a chance that the A5 scheme could resume, as there would not be enough funds to complete both at the same time. This means that the A6 scheme is, effectively, still dependent on the outcome of the A5 scheme. Since further decisions on the A5 are unlikely in the next six months or so, it looks like this scheme will remain in limbo for some time yet.

5 Jul 2013: As outlined in the discussion further up this page, the one outstanding issue on this scheme is the design of the Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road grade separated junction at Castledawson. The initial design was rejected at the 2007 public inquiry. A revised design was then rejected at the 2012 public inquiry. The issue seems to be the proximity of proposed link roads to houses in the area. As anticipated, the DRD did indeed submit their third proposed design for planning approval on 27 June. The link I have given is to the planning service web site, where you can download detailed designs, but here is a shortcut to the relevant map [4MB] showing the design. It differs from the previous proposal in that the link road joining Annaghmore Road and Bellshill Road no longer passes between two housing developments, but instead passes further to the east of the built up area, as was suggested by the public inquiry inspector. The design has also gained a roundabout, and the farm accommodation overbridge - which was in the original design but was missing from the second one - has returned. I have added a screenshot of the map further up this page. The junction is now in the planning process. If there are a sufficient number of objections, a third public inquiry may be needed. Already I have heard that some local residents are still unhappy with this revised design, so we shall have to wait and see.

1 May 2013: Further to my update of three days ago, the DRD Minister said in the Assembly yesterday that progression of this scheme will NOT be delayed by the ongoing work to finalise the design for the troublesome Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road junction, near Castledawson. His actual words were "My officials are examining a further junction layout following the inspector’s rejection of the alternative, which was examined at a public inquiry in February 2012.  Officials intend to submit a planning application within the next month.  The Castledawson junction would not delay progression of the main scheme." This is a very significant point, since without the need to wait to get this junction finalised, this scheme must surely jump to the top of the list of possible road schemes to be progressed with the money freed up by the 12-18 month delay to the A5 project. I am not a betting man, but if I were this would be the scheme I would put my money on as the most likely to go ahead in the very near future. Having said all that, it's not clear to me exactly why the junction design would not delay the project, since its construction will, by default, involve sealing off access to these two local roads and so some kind of new junction will have to be built. Perhaps the hope is that the scheme can begin on the assumption that the junction design will be finalised part way through the procurement or construction phase and then be completed as a latter part of the work.

28 April 2013: The DRD has now confirmed that they will be putting in a planning application for their third attempt at the Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road junction, near Castledawson (see previous update) during May. With the A5 project now on hold for at least a year, and the DRD minister actively looking for other projects to spend his money on, it seems sensible to resolve what is now the only outstanding issue with the A6 scheme as quickly as possible in case there is an opportunity to proceed with this scheme. However, it is possible that the revised planning application may lead to yet another public inquiry, in which case we could still be a year or more away from having the issue with this junction resolved.

27 January 2013: As it's been a year since the last update, a quick recap seems in order. Firstly, the proposed dual-carriageway went to Public Inquiry in 2007. The Inspector recommended that the road go ahead. However, he also recommended that the design of the connections to Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road, near Castledawson, be revisited as they were not acceptable in their designed form. The issue was primarily the impact of both the access arrangements and the physical impact on houses and farms on these two roads. The DRD then went back to the drawing board and came up with 5 alternative options, which were published in January 2011. One of these was selected and brought forward as a replacement proposal. However, 25 letters of objection were received along with 5 petitions. A Public Inquiry was held into the revised design in February 2012, and the Inspector's Report was finally published last week. The result was a setback for the scheme, since the Inspector has rejected the revised design! The DRD has accepted this recommendation and agreed to go back and have yet another look at the design. This means a potential further delay to the project, since DRD will now have to apply for planning permission again, not to mention the possibility of a further Public Inquiry if this third design also receives significant objections. This third design seems likely to be based on an option recommended by the Inspector at the 2012 Public Inquiry. I have included maps of all three designs - from 2007 to present - above. Due to this latest delay, it now seems unlikely that this scheme could progress to construction in the near future (ie, 2-3 year timeframe). However, since this scheme is arguably one of the most badly needed of all planned road schemes in Northern Ireland we can only hope that a satisfactory solution to this issue is found soon.

14 February 2012: Today saw a major funding announcement with the money that had previously been earmarked for the A5 scheme being reallocated for the next four years. The Minister had a limited pot of cash to allocate, but the main surprise for me is that this scheme has not been given the go-ahead for construction in the next four years. As I said in November's update, this was one of the few schemes that had a good chance of going ahead as it is very well advanced, is not particularly expensive, and involves upgrading one of the worst stretches of the A6 (Moneynick Road from Randalstown to Toome). However, the Minister has chosen to press ahead with the A5 in preference to the A6. There are strong arguments either way, but I would anticipate this leading to some debate in the weeks ahead.

4 February 2012: The supplementary public inquiry into the proposed junction at Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road, which was postponed last September, will now begin at 10.30am on 13 Feb 2012 at Christ Church Parish Hall, 10 Station Road, Castledawson. The inquiry was postponed because it was deemed necessary to await the outcome of the Magherafelt Area Plan (MAP), which was finally adopted on 14 December 2011, perhaps to avoid pre-judging the outcome of the MAP. Now that the MAP has been adopted, it seems the inquiry can go ahead. The inspector is Mr JA Robb, who also chaired the original 2007 inquiry into scheme as a whole. Mr Robb is a self-employed Personal Development Advisor. There is still no news on timescale for this scheme - the official position is still that it will not proceed until after 2015.

12 November 2011: According to a report presented by Roads Service to Derry City Council two weeks ago, the supplementary public inquiry into the Bellshill Road junction (see previous update) must now be delayed until after the formal adoption of the Magherafelt Area Plan, I believe for legal reasons. This may happen next year, but we do not know. The main public inquiry took place in 2007.

Last Wednesday's announcement that the Irish government was delaying its promised £400m towards the A5 means that the A5 now cannot proceed on the timescale envisaged, ie before 2016. This has created confusion as to how Stormont's cash that has suddenly been released should be spent. There are lots of road schemes in planning, but due to the length of time the legal processes take, only four schemes could proceed in the near future. These are the ones that have had their public inquiries and are:

  • A2 dualling Greenisland
  • A6 dualling Randalstown to Castledawson (ie this scheme)
  • A8 dualling to Larne
  • and of course, the big A5 scheme that is now on the long finger.
It is therefore the first three of these that I believe have the highest chance of proceeding soon. This scheme on the A6 does have to wait for the Magherafelt Area Plan, but this may not be a significan delay, and thus I would not be surprised if the coming months see movement on this A6 scheme.

21 Sep 2011: The public inquiry due to be held last Monday (into the proposed junction at Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road in Castledawson) was cancelled last week without explanation, or more accurately was postponed to an unspecified date in the future. No reason is given, but it may be that some issue has come up that is easier to sort out before the inquiry than during it. The arrangement proposed at this location has been locally very controversial.

23 July 2011: Although the public inquiry for this scheme happened in 2007, Roads Service have now announced that a supplementary public inquiry will take place in September. The original inquiry recommended changes to the junction at Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road in Castledawson, which took a long time to finalise (see previous update). Because this new design requires more land and impacts on more properties than the original scheme, a new public inquiry is needed to look at these specific proposals (not the whole scheme). The Public Inquiry will be chaired by Mr JA Robb and will begin at 10.30am on 19 Sep 2011 in Christ Church Parish Hall, 10 Station Road, Castledawson. Full details here.

14 Jan 2011: It is a mixture of good and bad news for those interested in this scheme. On the plus side, Roads Service seem to have finally decided on the final layout of the junction at Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road in Castledawson. This has been very controversial and has undergone a series of public consultantions and amendments. Roads Service have now revealed their final design and, while admitting that it will not please everyone, say that they believe it satisfies the largest number of people. The final design involves a new link road between Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road, bridged over the upgraded A6, with sliproads providing access to and from the A6. The bad news is that Roads Service have revealed their budget for 2011-2015 and, due to lack of money, this scheme has now been put on hold, seemingly until at least 2015. This is very sad news, especially since this scheme had advanced to the point of being one of the next schemes due to begin.

30 Dec 2010: In a press release issued two weeks ago, the Minister stated that "subject to finance" he expected this scheme to get underway "in 2011" which is unchanged from the position in the summer. With the most recent Northern Ireland budget now decided, it does look as if this scheme may well go ahead within this timescale. Regarding the objections to the proposed junctions on the Toome to Castledawson part of the scheme, Roads Service's own page is saying "the planning of the revised junction improvements to be complete in late 2010". It's not clear whether this is current information or not as Roads Service's web site is frequently out of date.

18 Nov 2010: I wrote letters to three public representatives a month ago arguing that the decision to leave the two roundabouts at Toome in place was a mistake. Mark Durkan (MP for Foyle) did not acknowledge the letter. Fred Cobain (Chair of the Regional Development Committee) replied after a month to say that he had passed the letter on to Roads Service. Conor Murphy also passed his letter on to Roads Service who sent a reply setting out the logic behind the decision. They said "the volume of traffic joining/leaving the Drumderg roundabout is

  • well above the capacity of a compact grade-separated junction
  • well within the capacity of an enlarged at grade roundabout and
  • is miniscule when compared with the capacity of full grade separation."

They also note that the proposed roundabout would have "considerable reserve capacity" and that "journey time reliability may only become compromised much later". This answer is perfectly logical in the sense that an at-grade roundabout will easily be able to cope with the traffic levels anticipated and is the cheapest of the three options. I don't have access to counts of turning traffic at Drumderg so cannot say anything concrete on the matter, but the first point surprises me given that Banbridge (for example) is a significantly larger town than Toome yet is served by compact grade-separated junctions without apparent difficulty. The logic also seems to suggest that the capacity/cost ratio is the deciding factor in these matters. The fact that allowing traffic to flow freely without stopping is a reason in itself to grade separate a junction (quite independently from traffic figures) does not seem to be a factor in the decision, which is very disappointing. I still believe this to be a poor decision which will mar an otherwise excellent scheme for many years to come.

11 Sep 2010: The report presented to Derry City Council back in July contains the following sentence: "Roads Service is currently minded to set the Inspector’s recommendation aside and terminate the Randalstown to Toome dual carriageway in an enlarged roundabout at Drumderg, i.e. implement the proposal examined at the November 2007 public inquiry". In other words, they intend to enlarge Drumderg roundabout but not grade separate it. If true, this is an unbelievable decision. At a time when Roads Service has just completed a £12 million scheme to remove an at-grade roundabout on the A26 at Ballymena, Roads Service now seem intent on creating a similar bottleneck at Toome. I do not often express strong opinions on this site, but if the scheme proceeds with an at-grade roundabout at Toome then I would regard this as one of the worst road-building decisions of the past decade. At junctions such as this where 90%+ of traffic on a major dual-carriageway is continuing straight through, it is madness to leave an at-grade roundabout in place. Such situations exist or existed on the A1 at Hillsborough, the Westlink at Broadway and the A26 at Ballymena, and it has proven time-consuming and expensive to remove them once it has become obvious how many problems they create. If the road is built in this manner, then the Drumderg roundabout will cause a pointless delay for hundreds of thousands of motorists over the coming years before eventually the planners will have to upgrade the junction at a greater cost and disruption than it would have been to do the work at the time. Please Roads Service - do not leave Drumderg at-grade.

18 Aug 2010: In a briefing to Derry City Council in July, Roads Service said that work on the scheme is due to get underway on site "for 2011". However, it follows this with an important caveat that this "will depend on government funding", which is far from certain.

11 July 2010: The Minister was asked in the Assembly three weeks ago for an update on the timetable for this scheme and he replied that Roads Service "plans to make two direction orders later this year to facilitate the construction phase. It is anticipated that work will commence on site in the 2011-12 financial year, subject to the availability of finance at that time." The final caveat, of money, really renders the statement somewhat meaningless since nobody currently knows what finances will be available next year and beyond. Unfortuantely it is not possible for the Minister to be more specific than this, so we will just have to wait and see. He also stated that the project duration would be 24 months.

21 Apr 2010: The estimated cost of the scheme has risen slightly from "£100m" as of 2008, to a new figure of "£100-120m" as of now. Roads Service are reporting that comments and objections from last December's public exhibition have now been received, and that the finalised designs of the junctions are due to be released in "late 2010". There still seems to be uncertainty as to when construction will begin. All Roads Service are now saying is "Availability of finance at that time [late 2010] will determine when the scheme will be built."

7 December 2009: Last week the DRD published their revised plans for the Toome Bypass. You can view maps of the proposed changes on page 2 of this PDF file. The plans are quite extensive and include:

  • Replacement of the Drumderg roundabout with a compact grade separated junction and a bridge over the A6.
  • Removal of the Roguery Road roundabout. Roguery Road on the Toome side will be stopped up. No mention is made of how this will impact on Roads Service's recently constructed weighbridge which is sited here.
  • Access INTO Roguery Road north will be possible only when travelling east on the A6. It will not be possible to join the A6 from Roguery Road north.
  • Roguery Road connected to Drumderg junction partly via a new access road and partly via an upgrade of the existing local road network.
  • Old Bann Road, which currently joins the Toome Bypass at a T-junction will be reduced to eastbound access only. Presumably the two farm accesses will remain in a similar manner.

These proposals are extremely good news for motorists on the A6, and indeed should reduce rat-running through Toome village as well. In addition, the new plans for the Bellshill Road junction have been released. I have updated the strip map above to reflect all these changes. Service has outlined a schedule where construction would begin in 2012 and be completed by 2015. However, they are at pains to point out that this is dependant on funding, something which is far from certain in the current climate. If you wish to comment on the proposals, you will find the contact details and forms at the bottom of this page.

22 November 2009: The DRD is holding a pair of public exhibitions to explain the revised junction proposals (outlined in the previous update). They will be held  as follows:

  • Christchurch Parish Hall, 10 Station Road, Castledawson on Mon, 30 Nov (5pm to 9pm) and Tue, 1 Dec (1pm to 9pm).
  • Toome House, 55 Main Street, Toome on Wed, 2 Dec (5pm to 9pm) and Thu, 3 Dec (1pm to 9pm).

18 November 2009: The DRD officially released their response to the public inquiry on Monday. Not surprisingly, given the general support the scheme received in the inquiry, they have decided to proceed with the scheme. However, they have made a number of minor amendments in response to specific criticism from landowners and other affected parties. You can read about these in the two offical response documents, available here:

In terms of major alterations, the Public Inquiry had suggested that both the Drumderg roundabout, on the existing Toome Bypass, and the Castledawson roundabout, at the western end of the scheme, should be grade-separated (ie, flyovers). Roads Service have decided to make this change to the Drumderg roundabout. Although the DRD document makes no mention of the Roguery Road roundabout, also on the Toome Bypass, the update on 26 April 2009 noted that it too may be removed, meaning that the Toome Bypass may become fully freeflow when this scheme is completed. However, they have rejected the recommendation to grade separate the Castledawson roundabout on the grounds that the roundabout acts as an important reminder to motorists that they are leaving a high quality dual-carriageway and joining an ordinary two-lane road with T-junctions. Meanwhile, in a Written Answer in the Assembly, the Minister confirmed that the scheme is still programmed to begin in 2011/12, but this is of course subject to money being available at the time.

26 April 2009: Last August the inspector's report from the public inquiry was published. This made a number of recommendations, outlined below in the update for 26 August 2008. Roads Service is scheduled to make its reponse to this report in Autumn 2009. However, a clue is given on the last page of the minutes of a Roads Service board meeting held in January 2009. These suggest that the recommendations may be as follows:

  • To accept modifications to Bellshill Road junction and Annaghmore Road bridge. It's not clear whether this will be in line with the inspector's recommendations, but it seems likely.
  • To grade separate the Drumderg roundabout, ie put in a flyover at the easternmost roundabout on the Toome Bypass. This is a major change to the design, and a very welcome one.
  • To remove the Roguery Road roundabout, ie the other existing roundabout on the Toome Bypass. It's not clear how alternative access will be provided here. It may be through the nearby Drumderg roundabout, it may be by a pair of left-in, left-out junctions or it could be via new bridge. This means the Toome Bypass will very likely become fully freeflow.
  • That the Castledawson roundabout should remain at-grade, ie with no flyover. This is not surprising since the A6 on the other side of the roundabout will remain single-carriageway.

I asked Roads Service, via the Freedom of Information Act, for more details on the proposals but it emerged that, since the material is due for publication in the Autumn, it was exempt from the FoI Act. We shall therefore have to wait until the Autumn for the full details!

16 Dec 2008: According to a Stormont Assembly written answer from last week, the estimated cost of the scheme has risen considerably from £70m to £100m. The information also suggests that work may be able to commence in 2011 with completion in 2014, subject to passing the normal processes. In November 2008, Roads Service issued a 4 page leaflet that provides a useful summary of the western part of the scheme, and a corresponding leaflet for the eastern portion. However note that the timescales given on page 4 in each case seems to be wrong by the most recent information. There is also no word on the progress of the revisions of the design of the Castledawson and Drumderg roundabouts (see update on 26 August below). The second leaflet also refers to the terminus of the M22 as "junction 3" which, as far as I am aware, is the first time this point has been given a junction number (until now the M22 has had a junction 1 and a junction 2 only). This may suggest that the new grade separated junction here is going to be signed as "junction 3".

26 Aug 2008: On 18 August, the inspector's report from the public inquiry was published. It recommended proceeding with both parts of the scheme with these modifications: (a) that the layout of the new road at Drumderg (eastern end of the Toome Bypass) should be revised (b) that the pair of junctions at Bellshill Road should be built as a full junction with bridge (c) that the proposed nearby bridge to carry Annaghmore Road over the A6 should therefore be abandoned and (d) that the design of the Castledawson roundabout should be revised, perhaps because this is now also the terminus of the proposed Magherafelt Bypass (see link at top of page). This document gives more details of the proposed changes. The commencement date is now being given as "2011".

28 Apr 2008: The Investment Delivery Strategy for Roads strategy document of April 2008 contains the surprise news that commencement on this scheme, which had been due in "late 2008" has now been pushed back considerably to 2010/11 with completion now not due until 2012/13. This is despite the fact that the public inquiries were held in November. The likely reason is that the promotion of the expensive A5 and A6 schemes has meant that other schemes, like this one, have been delayed.

22 Mar 2008: Public enquiries were held for both halves of this scheme in November, but as yet no report has been published. In the meantime, anyone interested in the scheme should be able to spend a few hours reading through the vast amount of material that Roads Service have made available on their web site (see link at top of this page) relating to the development of the scheme.

8 Oct 2007: According to this press release from September, a public inquiry is now to be held into the scheme. It will take place in November 2007. It is possible that this will push back the start date of this scheme.

19 Apr 2007: According to this page, construction has been pushed back to "late 2008" from the previously advertised "early 2007".

Route Map

Roads Service now have detailed maps on their web site showing the junctions between the M22 and Toome and between Toome and Castledawson. The more general map below was released to the press by the Roads Service in September 2005. It shows the western part of the scheme at the top, and the eastern portion at the bottom. The recently completed Toome Bypass has been added in black. Individual junctions are not shown.





One of the best quality roads on the route, the M22 becomes one of the worst here, where the M22 becomes the A6 to Toome. The new road will continue straight ahead here instead of curving right (see map above). [Picture by Wesley Johnston]

At the other end, the A6 seen here arrives at the Toome Bypass (to left of shot). [Picture by Wesley Johnston]