Anti A5 campaigners suffer blow at High Court


A campaign group suffered a blow today in its second legal bid to halt a multi-million pound dual carriageway project linking Counties Derry and Tyrone.

The High Court dismissed claims that the need and justification for the A5 scheme, along with alternatives, will not be properly considered at an ongoing public inquiry.

A judge adjourned a separate ground of challenge over an alleged failure to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), ruling that it was premature.

Mrs Justice Keegan's decision represents a significant setback in the challenge mounted by a group of farmers, landowners and others opposed to the planned 85km route.

Work on the new dual carriageway section is due to get underway next year.

In 2013 the group, known as the Alternative A5 Alliance, won their first legal action against the new Derry and Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone road.

At that stage a judge quashed the decision to press ahead with the scheme, which forms part of a proposed key cross-border business route linking Dublin and the north west, due to a breach of a habitats directive.

Lawyers representing the Alliance returned to court to seek a judicial review of renewed plans.

They argued there is a requirement for alternatives to be examined by the Planning Appeals Commission, and accused the Department for Infrastructure of engaging in a charade.

Attorney General John Larkin QC, responding for the Department, countered that further PAC hearings in December will look at other options and enable objections to be voiced.

Backing his submissions, Mrs Justice Keegan said the Commission must then prepare a report for the Minister's consideration.

"I reject the suggestion that the inquiry is simply a sixth form debating exercise," she added. "That, it seems to me, does a disservice to its aims."

A second ground of challenge in the application for leave to seek a judicial review involved arguments that the A5 project must be subject to an SEA if it features in Stormont's next Programme for Government - currently out for consultation.

Mr Larkin stressed that the current draft contains no direct reference to the road scheme.

According to the judge, the campaign group have to cross a hurdle in establishing that the Programme for Government sets the framework for development consent.

"I consider there's a degree of prematurity to this ground of challenge," she said.

"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."

Both processes, she said, impact on the question of whether SEA obligations are triggered.

"It's unclear in my mind at the moment, but may become clearer with fuller information."