Fewer people are shopping in Belfast as a result of traffic chaos sparked by new city centre bus lanes, retailers have claimed.
Joe Jordan, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, has pointed to a “noticeable downturn in footfall” in city centre shops since the system began.
He was speaking after commuters were hit with yet another morning of traffic jams yesterday.
New bus lanes have brought chaos to the morning commute by creating bottlenecks in many parts of the city centre.
The changes are part of the Department for Regional Development’s (DRD) Belfast On The Move plan — which aims to shift people away from cars by giving more space to buses and cyclists.
But tailbacks have left many motorists late for work and some independent businesses with late deliveries or delayed customers.
According to Belfast’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the problems are already taking their toll on city centre businesses.
Mr Jordan said: “There has been a noticeable downturn in footfall from the introduction of the Belfast On The Move plan. We would be saying we have noticed this downturn over the last two weeks, since September 17.
“Yes, it is as a result of Belfast On The Move. But Saturday’s Covenant parade played a part.”
Mr Jordan said action was needed to iron out the traffic problems, especially before Christmas.
“It would be unfair of me to speculate on the extent of the downfall,” he said. “But it's important that something is done about in the run-up to Christmas.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said: “Businesses we have been speaking to are concerned about deliveries. Small shops need to be regularly stocked.”
A DRD spokeswoman said: “The Chamber of Trade is represented on the Belfast City Centre Management Board by Joe Jordan. This board is kept fully aware of the Belfast On The Move proposals by regular updates from the DRD representative.
“The Belfast On The Move scheme is under constant review. We will assess any potential impact once the figures relating to footfall are available.”
Meanwhile, roadworks have returned to College Avenue between Millfield and College Square North, which caused jams on Monday morning as far back as Great Victoria Street.