A leading conservationist has refuted claims by the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) that its proposed route for an extension to the A6 is the best.
Ornithologist and wildlife expert Chris Murphy claims the £160m project, originally quoted at £34m in 2005, is neither economically nor environmentally efficient and will cause unnecessary disruption to protected swans and destruction of the best fresh water wetlands in Ireland.
But DfI, has long argued that the chosen route - the red route - was its preferred option “on the basis of economic, engineering and environmental considerations”.
In 2005 the department consulted 216 people on possible routes. Both the red and brown routes were popular, though almost half those asked didn’t answer the question.
Paperwork from that consultation said Mr Murphy’s preferred route - the Brown route - also had merit in that it provide better transport links for loughshore residents.
But that route was estimated to cost just over £43m at the time - opposed to the £36m estimated for the red route - and there were concerns it would cut through the heart of the community.
Closest to Ireland’s largest remaining wetland, which alongside Lough Neagh is a Ramsar site, ASSI and SPA, Mr Murphy argues that noise from the red route road will impact Whooper swans, who will also lose some of the fields they now use for grazing.
“This wetland has been home for the rare Whooper Swan for generations and the proposed route for the dual carriageway threatens their environment, which is already marked as one of sixteen Special Protected Areas in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“These are areas designated under the European Commission Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds.
“Despite this, the Department for Infrastructure maintains that the selected carriageway route is an appropriate choice.
“This is construction for the sake of destruction. It will cause unnecessary disruption to ecosystems and ruin the habitats of not only the Whooper Swan but other rare birds and animals.”
A DfI spokesperson said: “The department’s route choice was endorsed by the independent Inspector at the Public Inquiry in 2007. The chosen alignment minimises the impact of severance upon the local community through which it passes.
“The environmental importance of the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg basin were also fully considered and the route has been shaped to protect these.”