Belfast Telegraph

Public has its say... and public realm plans remain the same

by Dave Whelan

Final plans for the Public Realm works for Bangor and Holywood have been approved by North Down councillors.

The report on the coordinated response to the four week public consultation was released to members last week and was discussed by the corporate committee on Tuesday night (October 8).

Despite the level of consultation – the largest of any public realm scheme in Northern Ireland to date – levels of public involvement were relatively low.

Of the 358 feedback forms received for Bangor and the 36 feedback forms received for Holywood only a small number of suggestions fell within the scope of the scheme, while only a minimum amount of suggestions will be taken up.

Some of the positive public feedback that will be taken on board by the scheme includes putting up maps and information points around the town, providing recycling bins and providing trees in side streets.

Many traffic and parking suggestions such as pedestrianising Main Street have been referred to the Department of Regional Development for future consideration, as well as a proposal to reopen Hamilton Road to two way traffic. Bridge Street is to remain two way.

At the time of going to print it was expected that the Council would approve the final design, meaning that a planning application for the Public Realm upgrade would be submitted by the end of September, with a contractor appointed no later than January 2014 and work to commence in both towns by March 2014.

Independent councillor Austen Lennon lambasted the consultation and has called it a "fake" and a "disaster" for Bangor.

"This consultation process could have lasted a year because there has been no change from the original plans drawn up in a back room."

Speaking before the council meeting, he said: "The report fails to reflect a huge level of public complaint, there is no doubt that people will stand in council tonight and talk about how wonderful the project is but the sad fact is that this is going to set a benchmark for Bangor for the next 20 years."

The Public Realm works are part of a 10-15 year masterplan launched in July 2011 for the regeneration of Bangor town centre and includes 29 identified projects including public realm works.

DUP MLA Peter Weir welcomed the progress being made on the scheme and said that the endorsement of North Down Borough Council would be an important step forward.

"The public consultation on these proposals has been widespread, going beyond just a tick box exercise, with considerable effort, even before the formal process began to involve interested parties and individuals," he said.

"While there is never going to be complete consensus on every detail of the schemes, it is good to see that there has been a generally positive response from the public.

"This is a great opportunity to improve the quality of our town centres in Bangor and Holywood, and I am glad that we are grasping this chance."

Mayor of North Down Andrew Muir said: "The plans being progressed are extensive and while we may not be able to please everyone, I know many people are excited by the opportunity we now have to realise this multi-million pound investment for our towns."

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