Belfast Telegraph

Paris on Lagan? That's nothing more than a French fancy

Councillor slams radical plan to make Belfast more cosmopolitan

By Chris Kilpatrick and Peter Dorman

Radical plans to transform Belfast into a cosmopolitan European capital have been described as nonsense.

Proposals to revamp the city have been put out for public consultation and include pedestrianising Oxford Street.

The Belfast City Centre Regeneration Strategy and Investment Plan includes creating a leafy city centre with more outdoor activities.

It also proposes the re-orientation of the city centre towards the River Lagan, which it said should be transformed into the Belfast's greatest asset.

A continuous waterfront parade on both sides of the river and two new pedestrian bridges are advised.

But a veteran politician said last night: "This isn't Paris, Rome or Barcelona. This is Belfast and we're proud of it."

A new inner ring road is set out with so-called super-crossings at various points in the city.

There are also plans to revitalise dilapidated shopping districts and run-down business areas.

The report highlights the need for a new transport hub at Great Victoria Street and work around the new Ulster University campus.

It reads: "Belfast has done well in recent decades to improve an economically dynamic and attractive city centre. It has, however, some way to go in comparison to other European cities of comparable size.

"It needs more; more people working and living in the centre, more visitors, more attractions, more commerce, more jobs, more street life and nightlife, more trees, more migrants and more development. More serenity, more bustle, more buzz.

"It is the combination of all those elements that makes a great city centre, that provides the self-fuelling chemistry for regeneration.

"Belfast has particular challenges; an economy that has been growing slowly, perceived geographical isolation and a legacy of conflict. But it also has a distinctive culture, a special sense of place and a talented population that can help it achieve its own unique brand of city centre success."

Jim Rodgers, a Belfast councillor for more than 20 years, strongly criticised the changes. "Whenever I read it I thought this was quite clearly put together by people who don't know this city," the Ulster Unionist said.

"Talking to other councillors in Belfast, they think it is nonsense. We know what makes this city tick. This doesn't make sense.

"Some of the suggestions are reasonable and fair, but the vast majority are anything but.

"And where would the money for this come from?"

One of the most contentious proposals is the changes to Oxford Street.

If given the go-ahead, just one bus lane would remain along the arterial route with all other traffic banned.

The change would include building a wider walkway to accommodate food stalls, entertainers and outdoor cafe space.

Under the same scheme Victoria Street would be converted to a two-way system for vehicles.

The plans say the move would make attractions such as St George's Market and the Waterfront Hall more accessible.

The head of transport charity Sustrans welcomed the "visionary" report but said there were issues around the city's infrastructure to deal with first.

"There are, of course, elements in it that will take time to realise," Sustrans Northern Ireland director Gordon Clarke said.

"The pedestrianisation of Oxford Street is a longer-term aspiration. There are many other measures that need to be put in place first.

"Our goal is to see fewer cars but more people entering the city centre."

Background

The contentious Belfast On The Move project began in 2012. It included 2.6km of new bus lanes on main thoroughfares like Oxford Street as well as bicycle lanes and 'safe' green bike boxes at intersections. Just three years later the road's layout is being reconsidered in the latest proposals. The proposals are included in a new report commissioned by Belfast City Council.

Do you think it makes any sense to pedestrianise Oxford Street in the city centre?

Bridget Madden (51), Whitehead

"I don't think there are many pedestrians that will use it, maybe for the courts, but not many."

Robert Watton (62), Belfast

"I think it'll be a bad idea, actually. It'll make the traffic in the city centre worse again because people use this road to get through to that side of the town, so where are they gonna go? I think it'll make it very difficult for motorists, so I think it's a bad idea."

Henry (38), Belfast

"I think someone needs to sit and think about it because it's one of the main routes around the city, it links to all the other routes, and I don't think it needs to be pedestrianised because there's plenty of crossings and no shopping here, so you don't need it."

Laura McKeown (25), Magherafelt

"It'll be a nightmare for traffic if you're wanting to get to the city centre from the M2; that's where I come from, so it'll be a nightmare for me, especially in the mornings."

Andrew Ward (50), Hillsborough

"I'm all for the idea of pedestrianising as we try to attract more tourists here and I can see the logic, but it doesn't look like there's a lot of pedestrian traffic, so, even if that doubled, are that many people going to enjoy the experience? But now that I think about it, it's a really good idea, it's a big area for employment and tourism, so I would approve of it."

Leslie Lockhart (50), Belfast

"If this goes ahead you're going to stop people coming into the city centre because you'll just clog it up even more and that will put tourists off."

David Jamison (55), Belfast

"I would be all for it because I'm much happier that the traffic is actually taken out of the city centre and put onto routes on the periphery. So I think it's a great idea."

Lynne Magee (45), Greenisland

"I think it would be a bit of a nightmare, but what can you do?"

Gary Funston (35), Carrick

"It's bad enough already with the bus lanes never mind it being fully pedestrianised."

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