Ulster Farmers’ Union Deputy President Barclay Bell has led a delegation of UFU representatives, which included members who are being directly affected by the proposed A5 road scheme, to meet with Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy.
Among the topics discussed were the current situation surrounding the project and the future timescale; the quality of the agricultural impact assessments carried out; the effects of CAP reform on these assessments; issues around the compensation to be paid for land, including the possibility of a “top-up” in line with the rest of UK, which the UFU have pressed for since the announcement of the scheme; the effects of Capital Gains Tax on affected landowners; and updates on other likely road development schemes throughout Northern Ireland.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Bell said: “The meeting was a necessary one to have as farmers and landowners in the affected area have been left in limbo for a number of years now. They have not been able to plan their businesses effectively as this road proposal has blighted their land.
“The Minister informed us categorically that the scheme remains an NI Executive priority, however there is still a distinct lack of detail around timescale and what landowners can expect. We are hopeful that these issues will be ironed out and that we can have a fair and transparent process on this. I also fully welcome the Minister’s willingness to meet with us and his recognition of the issues which face farmers.”
The A5 project, which would link the north-west of Northern Ireland to Dublin, effectively ground to a halt in April 2013 when Mr Justice Stephens ruled that the legal orders which had been made should be quashed due to the fact that the Department had not carried out an assessment of conservation sites under the Habitats Directive. Since then, these assessments have been progressed and it appears now as though a new set of legal orders, which will recommence the process, will be made soon.
As well as this, there has been significant dis-satisfaction among landowners with the amount of compensation being paid, with Northern Ireland offering only the market value of the land whereas those in Great Britain would receive an additional 7.5% Basic Loss Payment and an additional 2.5% Occupiers Loss Payment which the UFU has highlighted from the very outset of the recent round of road development schemes throughout Northern Ireland.
Mr Bell continued: “We need to be clear that some of these landowners are losing huge swathes of land which will have massive impacts on their ability to do business. The feeling of dis-satisfaction among these landowners with the way the entire process has been handled has not been helped by the lack of consistency in compensation between themselves and their counterparts in GB. “We are however aware that this is currently being considered by the NI Executive and we take the firm view that it is essential that the NI Assembly shows it can deliver by resolving the issues satisfactorily for not only those affected by the A5 road development but for all future road schemes.”