A26 Dual Carriageway: Farms

Regional Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 28th May 2012.

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Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 3:15 pm, 28th May 2012

4. asked the Minister for Regional Development how he intends to minimise the disturbance to farm businesses as a result of the proposed dualling of the A26 road. (AQO 2064/11-15)

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

My Department’s Roads Service has advised that, during construction of the A26 dualling between Glarryford and the A44 Drones Road junction, the contractor will be required to ensure that, where possible, access is maintained to all land adjacent to the works. Roads Service officials further advise that the scheme will provide an all-purpose dual carriageway, with landowners and farmers accessing it either from left in/left out junctions or from one of the adjacent full-movement, side road junctions. My officials and contracted staff will engage fully with affected landowners and their agents in relation to provision of appropriate accommodation works, including fencing, hedging, gates and laneways. Where land is required for the scheme, landowners will be compensated in accordance with the Land Compensation (Northern Ireland) Order 1982. Compensation matters are dealt with directly by the Department of Finance and Personnel’s Land and Property Services on behalf of my Department.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Minister for his reply. However, we continue to remain disappointed that, while statutory works have been carried out to continue progress on this project, there still remains an issue that his Department has not been able to resolve to the satisfaction of one local farmer, if not two local farmers: the issue of an underpass. When the climbing lane was introduced at Dunloy some years ago, an underpass was supplied to a particular farmer on that particular section of the A26. Can the Minister tell the House why an underpass is not being made available to the farms that are particularly affected in this case? Northern Ireland has seen one of those farms on a recent UTV programme displaying, week by week, the best of our farming in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary. These are issues that the Member continues to raise on behalf of his constituents, along with other representatives of the area. The scheme has been assessed by Roads Service officials, and, at this point, it is not deemed to be cost-effective to create the underpasses at the locations he has indicated. One of the next stages of the statutory process will be to move to a public inquiry. Those arguments, as strong as they will be, will be made at that stage, and the inspector will, I am sure, give full account to those views. At present, however, the view of Roads Service is that it would not be a cost-effective use of public money or serve the roads network to provide those underpasses. If evidence can be produced to the contrary and a compelling argument can be made, we will listen very closely.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Does the Minister agree that the upgrading of the A26 is needed not only for road safety but because it would benefit the local economy and tourism and decrease travel times for people from Ballymoney and Ballycastle? When, in the outworking of this scheme, does he foresee that this will be done, and where does it lie with regard to his funding priorities?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary. I am a very clear supporter and advocate of the improvement and upgrade to the A26, not least because my party colleague Robin Swann raises it with me every time he sees me. I need no convincing of its merits and the economic benefit that it would have for that region. As I indicated, the next stage of the statutory process is likely to be the referral to public inquiry sometime towards the end of this year; we estimate that it will be November or December.

The Member will know that, as part of the overall Budget that his party and others have supported, we have invested heavily in schemes such as the A5, A8 and A2.

It remains to be seen whether the investment strategy, which has yet to be published, confirmed and adopted by the Executive and the Assembly, will yield the opportunity to carry forward a scheme such as the A26, which is competing with other schemes for bypasses or through-passes all over Northern Ireland. I, as roads Minister, simply say that I am up for doing all of those roads, including upgrading the A26.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 3:30 pm, 28th May 2012

Will the Minister explain to my farming constituents how the Department can find hundreds of millions to pour into vanity projects like the A5 and tens of millions to pay consultants, but when it comes to farmers and facilitating their business on routes like the A26, it penny-pinches and refuses to recognise the absolute functioning necessity of an underpass? Is it not time that the Department got the balance right and provided for those whom it is affecting the most?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary question, and I accept the force and passion that he put it with. The difficulty is that Roads Service and its consultants have to assess from an engineering point of view whether the underpasses represent value for money and a wise choice of carrying forward a road scheme. I indicated that individual landowners and public representatives will have the opportunity at some stage — probably at the late end of this year — to make representations at a public inquiry, and, based on the strength of those, to carry those forward. If compelling and accepted arguments are made, I, as Minister, or whoever is Minister, will bring those forward. I appreciate the strength and conviction with which the Member spoke. Ultimately, however, he will know that the wise use of public money has to be a key factor in all of these things, and so it is with underpasses and accommodation works that are associated with any scheme, not least the A26.