There has been an extensive process of consultation with all those affected by the A5 western transport corridor scheme since its inception in 2008. It has taken a number of forms, including a number of public exhibitions at key design stages; regular updates to directly affected landowners through meetings and by letter at key stages in the development of the scheme; and formal consultation with over 30 statutory authorities and organisations as part of the studies and assessments that have been undertaken during the preparation of the orders and environmental statement for the scheme. That includes the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Loughs Agency. In addition, the scheme has a dedicated project website — www.a5wtc.com — and an 0845 telephone contact line. The website has supported the overall consultation strategy for the project, providing an additional means by which statutory, public and private stakeholders have been given access to scheme updates and announcements.
My officials are not aware of farming groups living along the proposed A5 dual carriageway route, although some landowners have chosen to involve the Ulster Farmers' Union. Officials have met the Ulster Farmers' Union generally and as and when requested by individual landowners. I also met the Ulster Farmers' Union only last week to discuss the A5 scheme and the Land Acquisition and Compensation (Amendment) Bill. In December, I invited the landowners' agents to meet me to discuss their and landowners' concerns about the scheme.
I thank the Minister for her detailed answer. Is she fully satisfied that everything has been covered in relation to consultation? If not, you could subsequently come across unexpected roadblocks, if I may put it that way, in the development of the scheme. That must be avoided at all costs. Is the Minister fully satisfied that the necessary consultation has taken place?
I thank the Member for his question. As you will be aware, I announced the start of a new set of consultations on the new draft statutory orders and new environmental statement for the scheme. The current consultation exercise formally commenced on 16 February and will conclude on 4 April.
It is likely that that could lead to another public inquiry into the scheme. As a result, we have tentatively programmed this in for autumn 2016. It is very much subject to the completion of the procedures, and moving forward from there. It is difficult at this stage to anticipate what may come up during those consultations, but I am certainly keen to ensure that as many issues as possible are resolved in advance of a public inquiry.
As the Minister noted, we will soon see the Land Acquisition and Compensation (Amendment) Bill passed, which will bring parity for those in Northern Ireland affected by projects such as the A5. Will the Minister ensure that measures are in place to maintain parity, should there be further enhancements in the level of compensation awarded in England and Wales in the future?
I thank the Member for his question and for the fact that he recognised that we have moved forward with this legislation, which has been widely welcomed. At this stage, I am unaware of the detail of what may be brought in across the water, but I will certainly advise my officials and ask that that be considered while we are going through the process of the Bill.