The £160m upgrade of one of Northern Ireland’s busiest roads has been put on hold after the work was challenged at the High Court.
A Graham / Farrans joint venture was due to start dualling a stretch of road on the A6 between Londonderry and Belfast last month, but this has been delayed until a judicial review is carried out.
The delay comes after ornithologist Chris Murphy successfully challenged the scheme on environmental grounds.
His challenge related to the first phase of the £160m project, which will see the dualling of a 6.7 km section between Randalstown and Toome.
The second phase covers a 7.4 km stretch between Toome and Castledawson.
Mr Murphy raised concerns over the impact the scheme would have on the wildlife around nearby Lough Neagh and Lough Beg, as well as the validity of site investigations and ecological surveys.
The Belfast Telegraph reported that Mr Justice Maguire felt an arguable case had been established by the claimant over an alleged breach of the habitats directive that gives protected status to the Loughs.
He said: “The court is left wondering about the impact or otherwise [highlighted by] the checks being carried out.
“The question relates to whether the checks, if they had produced a negative outcome in the sense of a conclusion [that] there would be an adverse impact being demonstrated… would this have led to the existing scheme being abandoned.”
Mr Maguire said his concerns related to whether ecological checks into the presence of certain species had been properly considered by planners.
The Graham / Farrans JV bagged the phase one contract for the scheme last May and had begun preparatory works.
But the contractors have now been asked to down tools until the judicial review is completed in early 2017.
The scheme totals 14 km of new dual carriageway and is aimed at improving connectivity between Northern Ireland’s two biggest cities.
Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure said it was now looking at changing the order of works and beginning construction on the second phase of the scheme.
Infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard said: “The judgement today has ruled out five of the six grounds for judicial review and means that the substantive case will be heard on the one issue relating to the habitats directive.
“While I had hoped that we would be able to proceed with this strategically important project, we will play our part to ensure that as Justice Maguire said, there will be a speedy date for a full hearing and I remain confident that we will be ultimately successful.”