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POLITICIANS and businesses have joined to welcome the long-awaited start of the £220m A6 Dungiven to Drumahoe upgrade scheme.

But fears have also been voiced that Dungiven could turn into “a ghost town” with potential shoppers using the bypass to steer clear of the town's Main Street.

Karen Groogan, owner of Groogans' clothes shop, said: “I'm not sure how it's going to affect my trade so I'm sitting on the fence at the minute.

“But I am worried it's going to take away from attracting new customers who pass through the town as very often they pull up and come into my shop because of my window display.”

She added: “However, I do think it will make it a more pleasant environment for locals to shop in as the town is currently very congested and noisy from all the traffic. Hopefully people will be more inclined to come here, if they have a quicker route out of the town.

“Only time will tell; let's hope local people support local businesses because otherwise there is a risk that Dungiven may turn into a ghost town.”Fergal McKay, who works in his family's butcher's shop with his father, Sean, said: “It should improve trade because at the minute locals don't use the town due to congestion so were hoping trade will improve.“We have already lost two banks and people have got out of the habit of using the town. Also, because of the delays and the traffic, we don't get many people passing through because there is nowhere to park; we are hoping the upgrade will change this.”

Martin Gormley, owner of Dungiven Farm Supplies, shared his sentiments. He told The Northern Constitution: "I am very much in favour of the bypass – I think the town will gain from it because people will be a bit more relaxed doing their shopping and all heavy lorries and goods vehicles will be off the main street.

“It will also help the pollution - there is such a heavy build-up of traffic here all the time travelling to and from Belfast.""It will make it a lot easier for the locals; a lot of them have left to go elsewhere. It was a big loss to the community when the two banks closed - we have to go to Limavady now for the nearest ones. "However, the businesses are still here, it's just a bit less convenient than before."The 25.5 kilometre project, which is expected to take four years to complete, will involve the construction of a dual carriageway, including a Dungiven bypass, with roundabouts connecting the scheme to the existing road network at either end.Speaking as he joined Causeway Coast and Glens First Citizen Cllr Brenda Chivers and Derry City and Strabane Deputy Mayor Derek Hussey to cut the first sod, said: “The A6 is a strategically important route as it connects the North West to Belfast and beyond.

“The existing road carries around 15,000 vehicles per day and with traffic levels continuing to grow, this very significant investment will greatly improve road safety and journey times by reducing congestion.

“The construction of this road will help to secure jobs in the construction industry, contribute to the economic development of the region and bring long term benefits to road users and local communities.”

Sinn Féin's East Derry MLA Caoimhe Archibald said: "Other sections of the A6 are well underway and, when completed, this road upgrade will dramatically reduce journey times between Derry and Belfast.“This is vital for growing our economy and increasing connectivity between Derry, Belfast and a direct link to Dublin. It will also make it much easier for visitors and tourists to travel to the city."This has been made possible because of the work to take this vital infrastructure project forward carried out by Chris Hazzard as Infrastructure Minister."This, along with other key infrastructure projects such as the A5 and the transport hub at the old Waterside train station, will all enhance the North west."

East Derry SDLP MLA John Dallat said: “The cutting of the sod to is, in a sense, the last spike in a long struggle which began 60 years ago and was frustrated time and time again as projects east of the Bann were given priority.

He said: “With investment in infrastructure comes economic and social prosperity and an end to the enforced isolation which the North West has experienced since partition but infrastructure in itself won’t resolve the serious imbalance that exists in relation to job creation, inward investment and the development of our tourist industry.

“One of the greatest difficulties resolving this issue was a reluctance to accept the neglect of the past and thankfully that has now been resolved without carrying through a daft idea in the past to close the Derry-Belfast railway to save money and redirect it to the A6 road development scheme.

“Let this important development be the beginning of a concerted programme of continuing investment in the North West to create the ideals enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement which included a commitment to address all kinds of inequality and that most certainly includes the awful disparities that continue to exist in the distribution of wealth.”

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