A war of words has erupted over the route of the new A6 dual carriageway with opponents saying it ‘cuts through the heart of Heaney country.’
Friends of the Earth (FoE) are demanding a rethink on the route the £140 roadway will take from Randalstown to Castledawson.
But the Department of Regional Development have stressed they followed “stringent processes” before choosing a preferred alignment for the A6 dualling scheme, including detailed consideration of the various environmental issues.
FoE director James Orr told the Mail the proposed road near Toome cuts through a special area closely associated with the poetry of Seamus Heaney as well as diverse wildlife such as the Whooper swans.
Back in 2007 Seamus Heaney, who died two years ago, came out against the proposed A6 and wrote to then Secretary of State Peter Hain, outlining his objections.
Mr Orr said: “He lobbied against this road. He was furious that the poetic heritage and natural beauty would be desecrated. To allow development so close to the strand of Lough Beg was to him a form of landscape trauma.”
Work on the roadway is expected to start in the summer after it was given the go-ahead by Regional Development Minister Michelle McIveen and welcomed by politicians across the politicial divide.
“Heaney said there would be an international outcry if the habitat that inspired WB Yeats Wild Swans of Coole in Galway would be threatened,” continued Mr Orr.
He claimed if the road went ahead the international public would consider us as “short-sighted cultural vandals, a community that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
He said the area is also one of the most famous places to see Whopper swans whose habitat he claimed was being squeezed out.
“This road sets a precedent that will render it impossible to resist even more developments,” he went on. “The Environmental Impact Assessment cannot be relied on - it is ten years out of date and it never envisaged the climate impacts that have made this area a floodplain.”
Mr Orr added: “There is a sensible alternative to this sectio of road near Toome. They don’t have to pick the most damaging option. For the swans, the landscape and for the memory of the world’s greatest poet we must now look at the alternatives.”
A DRD spokesperson told the Mail: “The Department followed stringent processes before choosing a preferred alignment for the A6 Randalstown to Castledawson dualling scheme including detailed consideration of the various environmental issues.
“The Department is acutely aware of the environmental importance of the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg basin and is also cognisant of the exceptional importance of the entire wetland system for over-wintering birds. The Environmental Statement for the scheme considered the potential impacts on Lough Beg area, including recent flooding, climate change and migratory birds.
“The outcome of the Public Inquiry into the scheme confirmed the appropriateness of the preferred route , and the Department is content that the planned scheme, is the optimum and most advantageous option to provide a dual carriageway between Randalstown and Castledawson.”