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Belfast's Windsor Park residents call foul as work on drain leads to bus suspension and massive disruption

Furious locals insist elderly and disabled will be cut off from city centre in latest row over redevelopment

By Luke Barnes

Published 25/10/2016

Pipeline works outside Windsor Park that have caused issues with the local bus service
Pipeline works outside Windsor Park that have caused issues with the local bus service
Resident Billy Dickson

Elderly residents living close to Windsor Park in Belfast say they are becoming increasingly isolated by work to improve the national stadium.

In the latest episode of the long-running dispute, Translink is suspending a bus service as work on a storm drain for the redeveloped stadium and the Olympia Leisure Centre is carried out.

Local people have branded the decision to suspend the 91 Metro service for seven weeks from tomorrow a disgrace.

It will also be suspended again in the new year - leaving pensioners and the disabled cut off from the city centre.

Derick Salters, who has lived on Donegall Parade with his wife Margaret for nearly 25 years, said: "I need the bus to get me downtown.

"I can't get out on my own unless that bus service is on. I'm completely reliant on it. I'm partially blind, my wife has cancer and I have heart problems.

"I can't get out at all - if I get a taxi, it costs me a tenner. They don't care about us, we're only a number."

Billy Dickson, chairman of the Blackstaff Residents' Association, has been urging Translink to continue operating a diverted route. He said: "For a lot of people here, their main social life is getting on the bus, going to the city centre, getting off, doing a wee bit of shopping, sitting down in M&S and having a wee coffee then getting the bus back.

"That's the highlight of their life and it's being taken away from them."

NI Water anticipate that work on the storm drain will be "substantially complete" by summer 2017. However, they add that, "progress will depend on ground conditions, location of existing underground services and other unknown factors".

The cancellation of the No 91 is the latest development in a series of rows residents have had against the Windsor Park renovation.

Locals claim they were promised the area would reap the benefits of the £25m stadium expansion that began in 2014.

However, they say they have yet to see any improvements.

Mr Dickson said: "When you think of the money that was spent on the stadium, assurances were given that this here would be of benefit to the local community. It's just talk."

Freda Jellie, who also lives on Donegall Parade, questioned why Translink couldn't operate a smaller bus that would be able to work through the side streets around the construction sites. She said: "They don't care, we don't have any buses on Saturday or Sunday and the last bus is at five to five on weekdays.

"These pensioners can't walk down Donegall Avenue or up onto the bridge - just look at the steps.

"It's a disgrace to all the wee pensioners around here."

Mr Dickson expressed his frustration with the Irish Football Association, which he says have been unresponsive to residents' complaints. He said: "The IFA should have had the foresight to know.

"It's not the IFA that's trying to solve the problems, it's the people on the ground. We are fighting and fighting week after week to get the IFA and their partners to treat the people here with respect."

Translink were unavailable for comment.

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