No council backing for road proposals

No council backing for road proposals

11 October 2017

THREE major roads schemes that could significantly ease congestion in Downpatrick are unlikely to be supported by Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

The Recorder has obtained a document being drawn up by council officials in which Transport NI will be advised the council’s three priority projects to ease congestion in the district are the Ballynahinch bypass, the widening of the A7 road between Saintfield and Crossgar and the southern bypass in Newry.

Despite forming part of the Downpatrick Masterplan, the council is not prioritising the three Downpatrick road schemes:

The eastern distributor road proposed to link the Downe Hospital with the Belfast Road via the Ballyhornan Road to the Saul Road and Strangford Road.

A link road from Irish Street to St Patrick’s Avenue running beside the old police station.

The southern link road running from the Ballydugan Road to St Patrick’s Avenue, running through Dunleath Park and emerging beside the cinema.

The draft document is part of the council’s delivery plan and comes under the theme of ‘reducing the level and impact of traffic and congestion.’ The document makes no mention of how Downpatrick’s congestion could be eased without these schemes.

South Down MP, Chris Hazzard, has expressed his surprise and concern that Downpatrick has been omitted from the traffic congestion strategy.

Mr Hazzard was the last Infrastructure Minister in the Stormont Executive and in 2016 asked Transport NI and council officials to advance several traffic schemes in Downpatrick area, including a study of the proposed eastern distributor road.

“I would have thought that our county town — a town that has long suffered from the effects of congestion — would be front and centre in any strategic document aimed at reducing traffic congestion across the district,” said Mr Hazzard.

“During my time as Infrastructure Minister I worked with local Transport NI and council officials to advance various traffic schemes in the Downpatrick area, including the recently completed Fountain Street widening project, so I fail to see why these projects are no longer considered to be of value in tackling the issue of traffic congestion in Downpatrick. 

“If the Council are serious about restoring Downpatrick as a thriving county town they must take the 

issue of congestion seriously; local traders, local schools, local families deserve a lot better,” said Mr Hazzard.

He was supported by Downpatrick councillor, Cadogan Enright, who said sustainable development in Downpatrick would be “permanently stymied” without resolving the congestion problem.

“Yet again we find that Downpatrick has been ignored in the new council’s planning process,” said Mr Enright. “This is even more serious than it at first appears, as we were on the cusp of potential success with projects coming forward to deal with congestion in Downpatrick before this latest plan. 

“Our new MP, Chris Hazzard, had succeeded while Minister for Infrastructure last year in pushing forward two long-awaited projects to tackle congestion in the town.

“Firstly the eastern distributor road was the subject of a study to iron out the last two issues in its routing. This critical road, linking the Downe Hospital with the Belfast Road, would alleviate congestion coming in from the Ardglass, Ballyhornan, Saul and Strangford roads.

“Secondly, the council is being offered the lands around the old PSNI station in Downpatrick. These would enable not just opportunities for commercial and community enterprise development, but also a one-way system enveloping the Irish Street car park. This would totally transform the declining retail centre in the town,” he claimed.

Mr Enright said if Transport NI believes the council is not serious about congestion in Downpatrick, it will take it’s projects elsewhere, especially if council management are proposing other areas first.

A council spokesman said the Environment and Spatial Planning Thematic Working Group has discussed a two year action plan. 

“The specific projects detailed were provided by Department for Infrastructure on the basis that these are the projects it anticipates significant progression on within the two year plan,” he said.

“Projects such as the Eastern Link Road and the Irish Street and St Patrick’s Avenue link road are not currently within the Department for Infrastructure two year work plan but remain actions within Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s Master Plans and discussion has been ongoing with Transport NI in relation to these projects.”