Council backing for Downpatrick road

Council backing for Downpatrick road

6 December 2017

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council has thrown its weight behind plans for a major new road designed to ease town centre traffic congestion in Downpatrick, but its decision wasn’t unanimous.

At a council meeting on Monday night, DUP members refused to support a proposal calling on the organisation to prioritise the eastern distributor road — linking the Belfast and Ballyhornan roads — alongside other major road schemes for the area including the Ballynahinch by-pass and upgrading a section of the A7 outside Saintfield.

DUP members said their focus was on the A7 upgrade and the delivery of the by-pass which has reached the ”shovel ready” stage, and is just awaiting funding. They argued prioritising the distributor road alongside these projects could delay them.

Despite their concern, a motion proposed by councillors Patrick Brown (Alliance), Cadogan Enright (Independent) and John Trainor (SDLP) calling for a meeting with the Department of Infrastructure’s Permanent Secretary to discuss the issue was agreed. Councillors also backed calls for a meeting with roads officials, landowners and developers to advance the distributor road.

Councillor Brown said anyone familiar with Downpatrick will be aware of its congestion issues which have “plagued the town for decades.” He said the local authority had a responsibility to work with government departments to advance and deliver schemes which can help the town grow and prosper. 

“The distributor road has been languishing on the Department for Infrastructure’s long term schemes list for some time which means it is unlikely to be delivered within the next 10 years. This is simply not good enough for a town where population growth and housing development means more congestion. People are already avoiding town centre shops,” he said.

Councillor Brown said he believes a feasibility study on the proposed road, which is due to be made public shortly, will conclude that the scheme is “sound and desirable” but two hurdles it faces are lack of funding and Newry, Mourne and Down Council support.

“The council would be a delivery partner in this scheme and there would be no financial cost to the ratepayer. There is currently very little incentive for the government department to deliver this project while support from the council, the voice of locally elected representatives, is lukewarm,” he continued. 

Councillor Brown said he was disappointed the DUP did not support the motion and decided to play “political games with a nonsense suggestion” that if the council supported the distributor road it would somehow delay the Ballynahinch by-pass. He said the motion was never calling for all roads projects to be delivered at the same time as the DUP was attempting to imply.

The DUP’s Billy Walker said he was “fearful” that prioritising the distributor road could hold up the Ballynahinch by-pass, a scheme he hopes which can secure finance in the New Year. He argued that prioritising too many road schemes could see the district “end up with nothing.”

Party colleague, Garth Craig, said while the Ballynahinch by-pass is ready to go, other proposed road schemes for the district are not, pointing out Downpatrick’s distributor road is still at the feasibility stage.

He added: “Whether we like it or not, there is a pecking order and we have to face reality. This motion is meaningless and the DUP is not trying to degrade the proposed distributor road.”

Councillor Trainor said he was disappointed the DUP had adopted a “parochial attitude,” arguing the provision of the distributor road represents an opportunity to further develop Downpatrick. 

Sinn Fein councillor Willie Clarke, who suggested a meeting of all the key players associated with the proposed road should be convened by the local authority, said the project is developer-led and distinctly different from the others proposed for the district, while the SDLP’s Garth Sharvin said the distributor road has always been a priority for the local authority.

Councillor Enright said local authority recognition of the Downpatrick scheme as a priority would not damage any of the district’s other roads projects, claiming the organisation has been “sitting on its hands” for a number of years and not moved the project forward.