PLANS to use the money set aside for the now delayed A5 Dual Carriageway sparked debate among Mid Ulster MLA’s at Stormont last week.
The UUP’s Sandra Overend, brought forward the motion, calling on the Executive to provide immediate support to progress other roads schemes including the Magherafelt by-pass.
The motion was supported by SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, but the DUP and Sinn Fein vetoed the proposal.
UUP MLA Sandra Overend said that she was surprised that the motion failed to gain the support of the two larger parties.
Mrs Overend said: “It is worth bearing it in mind that progressing roads infrastructure projects makes a real, positive difference to the economy. We get the short-term benefits of solid employment and the longer-term benefit of a reliable infrastructure and a significant economic driver.
The Magherafelt by-pass has been sought after for many years. Its potential local benefits of improved journey times, reduced congestion and the improved quality of life for people in Magherafelt are clear.
“Indeed, the previous week, I again met members of Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce who were lobbying in support of the Magherafelt By-pass. They clearly outlined research that has been undertaken to show that traffic congestion in the town centre would reduce by 25% and that congestion on the A31 road from Castledawson roundabout would be reduced by 35%.”
Sandra continued, “This was a chance for all six Mid-Ulster MLAs to support the Magherafelt By-pass scheme and demand that funding be directed to it as early as possible. However, only myself and SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone took the opportunity to do so. I was surprised that the Sinn Féin/DUP alliance refused to support this opportunity to make real progress on much needed infrastructure improvement and economic development. Ian McCrea spoke at length of the benefits that a Magherafelt By-pass would bring. If he really claims to support the building of the Magherafelt bypass, then why did he align himself with Sinn Fein in voting against a motion which called for it to be progressed?
“In the absence of support from the Executive, the Magherafelt by-pass scheme can’t move beyond the procurement stage. Mr McCrea should be calling on his own party colleague, the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and other DUP Ministers to support the DRD Minister Danny Kennedy and the Magherafelt by-pass scheme with not only an early funding commitment but an immediate one.”
DUP MLA Ian McCrea said that he was not in opposition to the Magherafelt bypass, in fact he fully supported it, he just raised the point that the money should be made available for projects which are ‘shovel ready’ now.
He said: “I was delighted to take the opportunity to speak in favour of the urgent need for the Magherafelt bypass during the debate at Stormont on Tuesday afternoon. I do not apologise for supporting the Magherafelt bypass, but it is important that, as we move forward, we move the projects away from being procurement-ready to being shovel-ready. It is also important that we are honest with people about the projects that are ready to go and the money that will be available to spend on these projects to ensure that, for the people of Magherafelt, the bypass is delivered.
“During the debate, I asked the Minister to ensure that, in the case of the Magherafelt bypass, whatever needs to be done is done as soon as possible to ensure that, if this happens to be one of the projects to go forward, it can be delivered as quickly as possible.
“As we await the detail of which capital projects the Executive are moving forward as a result of the hold up in the A5 scheme, it is vitally important that the UUP’s DRD Minister uses the time wisely in moving the Magherafelt bypass from ‘procurement read’ to ‘shovel ready’ that ensures that when decisions are made, the Magherafelt bypass is ready to go.”
Mr Mc Crea told the MAIL: “The main point is that the money which was set aside for the A5 is Executive money, it is not money that the DRD Minister Danny Kennedy has any control over. The money is the responsibility of the Finance Minister and I have constantly supported the need for the Magherafelt bypass and I have lobbied countless ministers over the issue through the years and I continue to support it.”
SDLP representative Patsy McGlone criticised the DUP and Sinn Féin MLAs for failing to protect funding for the A31 Magherafelt by-pass in the Assembly.
Mr McGlone said: “When the Assembly debated this issue, Sinn Féin MLAs colluded with the DUP to ensure that both the original motion and the SDLP amendment were defeated. Those two parties twice voted against calling on the Executive to provide immediate support to the Minister for Regional Development to progress other road schemes, including the A31 Magherafelt by-pass.
“It is clear that they intend to carve-up the funding originally allocated to the A5 for use within their own Executive fiefdoms. In doing so they are willing to veto support for any scheme outside of their ministerial control, and that specifically included vetoing support for the A31 Magherafelt by-pass,” he added.
As we await the detail of which capital projects the Executive are moving forward as a result of the hold up in the A5 scheme, it is vitally important that the UUP’s DRD Minister uses the time wisely in moving the Magherafelt bypass from ‘procurement read’ to ‘shovel ready’ that ensures that when decisions are made, the Magherafelt bypass is ready to go.”
Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MLA Ian Milne told the MAIL that his party are very much in support of the Magherafelt by-pass and that if funding becomes available then the Magherafelt by-Pass should proceed as soon as possible.
Mr Milne said: “I am supportive of Magherafelt by-pass going ahead in the context of finances becoming available. While not advocating that monies are taken from the Executive A5 allocation I believe the by-pass project should go ahead if and when monies become available from whatever source.
“Like other areas west of the Bann which were historically neglected from infrastructural investment we are supportive of funding going to projects such as Magherafelt by-pass.”
A delegation from Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce and Magherafelt District Council met with the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy last month.
The delegation, headed up by Chamber President Ian Henry and former Council Chair Paul McLean, asked the Department for Regional Development to prioritise the construction of Magherafelt town bypass.
The bypass was first proposed more than 37 years ago and was included in the 1976-1996 Magherafelt Area Plan.
The delegation told the Minister that the by-pass ‘has significant strategic importance for the Magherafelt District area and beyond and would greatly improve the severe traffic congestion problems that occur in Magherafelt town centre every day.’
Ian Henry, Chairperson of Magherafelt Chamber of Commerce told the MAIL that they were very much in favour of the by-pass.
The delegation told the Minister that ‘perhaps most importantly, the by-pass will support indigenous businesses and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors to Magherafelt town centre and also the Mid Ulster region.’