THE bid to build a new A5 dual carriageway has suffered its latest blow this week.
A legal challenge mounted by the Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A), due to take place in early June, has been pushed back until September.
However the legal case could face further substantial delays in the wake of Monday’s hugely significant ruling in the High Court, which blocked the bid to build an incinerator plant in Mallusk, Co Antrim.
Mrs Justice Keegan’s ruling found that in absence of a minister, the Department for Infrastructure’s Permanent Secretary Peter May, did not have the legal authority to decide that the project should proceed.
The legal ramifications of the decision are still being felt throughout government departments.
On Wednesday (16), DfI confirmed its intention to appeal the ruling. A spokesperson for DfI said it is seeking clarity on the law in the incinerator case and in relation to decision making on other major planning applications.
“While the appeal process is underway, the department will not take any further decisions on regionally significant applications and continues to carefully consider the full implications of the judgment on other planning cases.
“The department will continue to progress applications in readiness to reach a final decision.”
The absence of a minister is one of the central features in the legal challenge being mounted by the AA5A.
As a result, the four day legal hearing due to be heard by Justice Keegan on September 4 could be put on ice until the appeal process is exhausted.
One solicitor involved in similar cases described the present scenario as ‘uncharted constitutional territory’.
The incinerator ruling has fuelled calls for Secretary of State Karen Bradley to appoint direct rule ministers or push for the restoration of Stormont.
Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have claimed that despite the absence of a minister, the A5 dual carriageway was given the green light against the backdrop of a clear written ministerial instruction.
Sinn Féin MLA Michaela Boyle, claimed the incinerator project “is a very different scenario” to the A5.
“A clear written ministerial decision and direction on the entire A5 was signed and given to the Permanent Secretary by Minister Chris Hazzard before the collapse of the institutions,” she said.
“Therefore, there is absolutely no reason why this road should not proceed as planned following the resolution of the current court case.”
When he announced in November 2017 that work would begin on the first stage of the A5 in early 2018, Peter May said, “The decision to proceed takes account of the clear direction from the previous Executive that this flagship project should commence as soon as possible.
The outgoing Infrastructure minister was also clear that the A5 scheme was a key priority.”
However opponents point out that the lengthy report presented to DfI by the Planning Appeals Commission in May 2017, following the latest public inquiry, was not given ministerial consideration.
Although it recommended the scheme should go ahead in the public interest, that point could become the focus of the AA5A’s legal team.
Whether or not the A5 will be held to this week’s decision, or whether the incinerator ruling can be set aside from other major infrastructure projects, remains unclear.
Responding to the latest delays, John Dunbar of the AA5A said, “Every time the thing is delayed, our farmers are getting more time to use their land. We’re quite happy to go with that.”