The Department for Infrastructure has today published the Interim Report of the Planning Appeals Commission into the proposed A5 Western Transport Corridor and its Departmental response. The report follows a seven-day public inquiry into the scheme which was held last year.
The report concludes that on the information currently available “it is not possible to weigh and balance the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme and arrive at a final recommendation as to whether it should proceed”. This is because “important items on the balance sheet remain unquantified”. Commissioner Rue made a total of thirty recommendations across a range of topics, including climate change, flooding, ecology and nature conservation, and human rights. He recommended that the third phase of the scheme, from Ballygawley to the border at Aughnacloy, be removed from the scheme because it was “unjustifiable”.
Critically, the Commissioner accepted the key argument of the Alternative A5 Alliance which was that the Department should undertake a more detailed assessment of alternatives, including “an assessment of the suitability, environmental effects and human rights implications of options comprising town bypasses and selected improvements to the existing A5 to a WS2+1 standard”.
The Alternative A5 Alliance has argued that alternatives to the scheme should be adequately assessed for over a decade.
The Commissioner adjourned the inquiry and said that it can be reconvened when the Department has taken the steps outlined in the report and collated any public responses.
In its response, the Department has accepted most of the recommendations including the need to undertake a further assessment of alternatives. The Department has indicated that it intends to publish further reports in Autumn 2021 and to hold a further public inquiry in 2022.
Media Coverage: BBC
Conor Fegan appeared for the Alternative A5 Alliance at the public inquiry on behalf of the Alternative A5 Alliance, instructed by Roger Watts of C & J Black Solicitors (Belfast). Richard Honey QC appeared at the pre-inquiry meeting and was instructed with Conor Fegan to prepare written submissions in advance of the inquiry. Gregory Jones QC and Richard Honey QC were successful in quashing the statutory orders for the proposed scheme on two previous occasions on behalf of the Alternative A5 Alliance.