THIS week’s announcement of the go-ahead for the £100m A8 dual-carriageway scheme has come at “just the right time to make sure Larne port can continue to compete effectively”, the harbour operator has said.
However, P&O chiefs who warmly welcomed Transport Minister Danny Kennedy’s announcement on Tuesday are being asked by Larne Borough Council to explain why they failed to accommodate expansion plans by freight firm Seatruck, which meant it transferred its Irish Sea operation from Larne to Belfast.
Mr Kennedy has given the green light for the road scheme, which will provide 14.4 kilometres of new dual-carriageway between the Ballyrickard Road outside Larne to Coleman’s Corner, near Ballyclare.
The announcement came after the minister had considered the inspector’s report into the public inquiries on the A8 scheme. Mr Kennedy has now tasked Roads Service to progress the project, taking into account the inspector’s recommended amendments.
The report urged that the dual carriageway should be constructed in accordance with the preferred route, bypassing Bruslee and Ballynure.
The long-awaited news was welcomed by the Port of Larne, pointing out the significance for future economic development.
A statement issued on behalf of the Port said: “The Regional Development Strategy recognises Larne as a Gateway and this road as one of the key transport corridors in Northern Ireland. The port has waited for many years for this final piece of dualling to be completed.
“Larne is home to the shortest, fastest ferry crossings between Ireland and Great Britain but the port has not escaped the challenges posed for all businesses in the current economic conditions. This project, which will create a dual carriageway standard road connecting directly into the motorway network, is coming at just the right time to make sure the port can continue to compete effectively and to provide that vital key link across the Irish Sea.
“A major strategic investment like this is made not just for today or tomorrow, but for the future. This project will help to support the development of business and tourism, not just for Larne and East Antrim, but for the whole of Northern Ireland for many years to come.”
Construction of the scheme, by the consortium Lagan, Ferrovial and Costain, is expected to start in June this year and take two-and-a-half years to complete.
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy said: “I welcome the benefits to road users with the provision of a new all-purpose dual carriageway. This will help reduce journey times, improve road safety along the A8, and help the development of the Port of Larne, which is the second largest port in Northern Ireland.
“As part of the Trans European Network, the A8 is a strategically significant Euro route, which provides an important East-West link, between Northern Ireland and Scotland, via the Port of Larne.”
The Minister added: “In the current economic climate, the commencement of this dual carriageway, along the Eastern Seaboard Key Transport Corridor, will be welcome news for the construction industry and when completed, will contribute to the overall economic development of Northern Ireland.
“The scheme should lead to an increase in demand for local suppliers of construction material as well as a boost to commercial trade in the surrounding area.”
The Inspector made over 130 recommendations, which include, keeping Church Road open, the removal of the Rushvale Road – Calhame Road link and the provision of agricultural crossing facilities. The remaining recommendations made by the Inspector are relatively minor and typically relate to accommodation works, provision of additional information, or recommendations for the detailed design or construction phase.
The Inspector’s Report and the Department for Regional Development’s (DRD), Statement on the way forward is now available to view at Larne Borough Council, Smiley Buildings, Victoria Road; Newtownabbey Borough Council, Mossley Mill, Newtownabbey and Roads Services offices in Belfast and Coleraine.
It can be downloaded from the A8 Belfast to Larne dualling website at http://www.roadsni.gov.uk/A8BelfastLarne