Since I am on a roll after yesterday’s post, there is an issue which I suspect is more common to Northern Ireland than most places – rejectionism.
The Northern Irish are masters at avoiding progress. This is not a right or left thing; it is more a bizarre determination constantly to put the absolutely perfect (from a purely personal point of view, usually) in the way of the good. This is not a political thing, it is a social one – politicians merely react to it.
A classic example currently is the new 14km expressway to be built in Co Londonderry on the Belfast-Derry road. I have a significant problem with the plans for the road, but I nevertheless recognise that, on balance, it is a good thing. With the Republic of Ireland having already linked Dublin to every major city at least by expressway over the past two decades, Northern Ireland is now lagging behind with its second city nearly 50 miles from the nearest expressway. This road is a step (only that, but one step is better than none) towards parity, and in particular towards giving Mid Ulster and the North West reasonable connections to make the case for investment and job creation. There are also significant safety issues with the existing single carriageway, which is the oldest existing section on the Belfast-Derry route (having not even been upgraded when rest of the route was in the 1960s).
To be clear, the road has been through every step of the process towards construction; there have been two public inquiries and, on the basis of that plus inspector’s reports, the detail of the road was indeed changed. This month the vesting order will proceed and next month construction will commence. This process has taken years. A full expressway from Derry to the M22 towards Belfast was first announced in 2004 and we are talking about only a small section of it to commence in 2016 for completion in 2020!
Yet unbelievably there are still rejectionists! “Oh there is an environmental issue” (there will be an environmental issue regardless because the Area of Special Scientific Interest covers the entire corridor over which any direct road from Belfast to Derry has to proceed); “Oh it goes near Seamus Heaney’s home” (name a junction after him by all means); “Oh it won’t make any difference anyway” (it will save lives for a start, as the existing single carriageway is the most dangerous stretch of the route); “Oh the gains aren’t worth it” (try driving Belfast to Dungannon without the M1).
Someone is behind this rejectionism whipping it up, even though they know it is far too late – the inquiry took place at which there was a clear opportunity to raise all these issues. I raised the issue of the roundabouts still on the stretch, which would severely limit the benefits of the road. But I am not going to oppose construction because I did not get everything 100% my way!
I am currently involved on a project to do with a new 20km motorway tunnel between Germany and Denmark (not dissimilar to the Oresund Bridge, built nearly 20 years ago). To think we can’t build a 14km expressway without a whole lot of rejectionists still trying to hold it up over a decade after it was first proposed is just embarrassing.