A5: £800,000 paid to buy farmland for roads project

A5 Almost £60m has already been spent on the A5 project

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The Department for Regional Development has paid almost £800,000 for farmland for the stalled A5 project - land that has now been returned to the farmers.

Earlier this month, a court quashed the decision to go ahead with the road scheme and as a result, the land reverted to farmers' ownership.

The DRD said it was working to resolve the issue of money already paid out.

In the interim, it is to compensate farmers for fencing already removed and for the loss of use of their fields.

In a letter sent to the farmers affected this week, the DRD said: "The effect of this judgement is that, as of 15 April, the ownership of lands has been returned to you."

The letter also confirmed that all construction work on the road scheme had ceased due to the court's decision.

'Uncertainty'

It outlined a number of compensation options for landowners on whose property work had already been begun.

As regards the original DRD land payments, the DUP said some farmers had already spent the money on their businesses. The Ulster Farmers Union said the situation was causing uncertainty for their members.

The proposed road project stretches from Londonderry to Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, but it faced a legal challenge from the Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A) - a group of farmers, landowners and supporters who sought to block work on the 85km stretch.

The AA5A won their judicial review into to the planned new route, after the court ruled an environment impact assessment had not been carried out properly.

In a statement to the BBC, a DRD spokesperson said £795,566 has been paid out to farmers whose land was taken as part of the proposed scheme.

In relation to the money already paid out, the spokesperson said: "The department is considering options to resolve this matter to the satisfaction of everyone involved."

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy met with representatives of the Ulster Farmers' Union this week to discuss the implications of the court decision.

'Already reinvested'

The deputy president of the UFU, Barclay Bell, said the landowners affected had been placed in a "very difficult situation".

"I think the main problem is that farmers just aren't really sure where they are. It's the uncertainty that faces them in trying to plan ahead and look forward, as far as their businesses go," Mr Bell added.

The DUP's Jimmy Spratt, chair of the DRD committee, said: "In many cases the farmers have already reinvested the money in their businesses, so all of that need to be considered.

"My party will all also seek that farmers are dealt with fairly and sympathetically."

Mr Spratt said the A5 scheme remained on the table but, due to the delay, other infrastructure options should now be considered.

"The minister and the department need to look at other schemes that can maybe go ahead in the shorter term," the DUP MLA added.

The BBC's agriculture correspondent, Richard Wright, said the farmers affected by the A5 land purchase wanted "a clear-cut decision as to whether or not the road scheme will go ahead or will ultimately be abandoned".

In a statement, the DRD minister said: "Following the recent court ruling on the A5 scheme, a fuller assessment of the impact of the A5 proposals on the rivers Foyle and Finn Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) is being conducted.

"It would not be appropriate for me to pre-judge the outcome of any new assessment. When this process is completed I will consider the matter further."

'Full consideration'

Mr Kennedy said he had already held a number of meetings with members of the construction industry, the UFU and Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

He added it was "important that other schemes that may be in a position to be progressed ahead of the A5 are given full consideration by the executive".

Earlier this month, it was revealed that almost £60m had already been spent on the A5 road project.

The figure was made public after a judge awarded legal costs to a the AA5A.

The road scheme, the largest of its kind ever in Northern Ireland, formed part of a proposed key cross-border business route linking Dublin and the north west.

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