An impending end to roadworks in Belfast could deliver a Christmas boost for traders hit by two weeks of traffic chaos and a slump in customer footfall, business bosses have said.
Joe Jordan from the city’s Chamber of Commerce was speaking after a fortnight of snarl-ups and traffic jams, delays which economist John Simpson claims have cost £2m per day.
Traffic chaos last week led to Monday’s meeting between Roads Minister Danny Kennedy and disgruntled business chiefs.
Mr Jordan said: “The meeting was very constructive.
“The minister has given us an undertaking that he will cease all roadworks connected with Belfast On The Move by the end of October.
“We are very hopeful now for a positive Christmas. The message getting out there is that Belfast is open for business.”
City centre manager Andrew Irvine also attended the meeting. He added: “The minister accepted that Christmas is 40% of businesses’ year’s trade.
“We are taking forward issues around parking and the opportunity for giving people better information.”
Retailers last week said that they were beginning to fear for their livelihoods after 29 traffic lights in central Belfast were hit in a system meltdown.
The glitch — coming on top of the traffic congestion caused by new bus lanes and roadworks — was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, Mr Jordan said.
Calls had also been growing for roadworks on College Avenue, which were causing tailbacks as far back as Great Victoria Street, to be carried out at night.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) said last week that after the current works on College Avenue were finished and the opening of Hope Street to two-way traffic by the end of October, there would be no further major works in 2012.
The remaining work will be carried out next year.
Monday’s meeting was the start of a series of meetings between road chiefs and business representatives.
A new group — comprising DRD, PSNI, Translink, city centre traders and Belfast City Council — will meet next week for the first time. It will happen alongside another meeting between city centre management representatives and Mr Kennedy’s advisers.
The Department for Regional Development’s Belfast On The Move masterplan aims to improve public transport services, offer better facilities for walking and cycling and reduce the dominance of the private car in the city centre. For Belfast’s commuters, this has translated into wasting extra hours in traffic jams most working days, while traders have lost out on much business.