Road to ruin: Belfast traders slam return of traffic disruption
Hard-pressed retailers fear streets upgrade project in city centre will drive shoppers away
Traders and motorists across Belfast have hit out at the Government’s decision to begin six months of major roadworks while firms are facing closure amid continued flag protests, violence and unrest.
Business owners seemed largely unaware of the massive upheaval due to hit the city later this month — with fears of a return to the gridlock that paralysed Belfast in September.
It’s the second major blow to hit retailers who are struggling to keep afloat amid the on-going street protests which are being staged in the city centre every Saturday afternoon.
The roadworks, due to start on January 28, are part of the Belfast On The Move initiative to increase the use of public transport in the city.
But many are angry at the timing of the plans, which come as hundreds of outlets are facing a slump in trade of up to 50% along with the threat of closure amid six weeks of loyalist unrest over the Union flag dispute.
Deirdre McCanny, of boutique chocolate shop Co Couture, called for ”some level of joined-up thinking”.
Located not only in the thick of regular Saturday flag protests, the shop also sits close to several of the main roads into the city which are due to be affected.
“I had heard something on the news but that was it,” she said.
“It should be put off until the summer when it’s quiet anyway, schools are off and there’s less traffic.” She said the ongoing problems “don’t seem to be filtering into anyone’s consciousness”.
“We are going to be out of business. It is beyond bonkers,” she warned.
On Wednesday night around 150 angry and fearful traders met in Belfast’s europa Hotel to outline their concerns over the impact of the flag protests to business leaders.
Coffee shop manager John Glover said the roadworks move would “drive people away” from the city at a time when businesses are already struggling.
Yesterday, Belfast commuter Paul Smith (38) said the decision was going to be “bad for businesses”.
“The city has already been through so much with the protests, so it just depends how much more they're willing to risk losing,” he said.
What they said
- Michelle Murphy, manager of Boojum, Chichester Street, said: “There are already concerns about the standard of parking.”
- Paul Welshman, owner of The Nutmeg health store, said: “Like everything else to do with the council and city centre, they don’t seem to give a you-know-what.”
- Orsi Budi, owner of Angels Coffee, Cake & Salad Bar, said: “This will be taking my customers away.”
- John Glover, of Hot Shots cafe, said: “It is one of the worst times to be doing this, digging up the street when there is a riot.”
- John Rath, owner of Sarnies sandwich shop, said: “It’s been a rubbish Christmas and what has been going on hasn’t helped.” Those travelling into the city are also worried about the roadworks:
- Sarah Peters (24) said: “Getting in and out for work is going to be a hassle.”
- David McNeill (51) said: “If they had any sense they would wait until the protests are over, maybe even the summer, so less people are affected by it.”
Motorists urged to be patient behind wheel
By Thea Babington-Stitt
It's just four months since Belfast was brought to a halt — and drivers left fuming — by the first phase of roadworks.
And there has been a frosty reception among businesses and commuters following the announcement of roadworks plans which could plunge the city into gridlock misery once again.
Another six months of roadworks is set to hit the city centre on January 28 — a follow-on from the initial phase of the Belfast On The Move scheme which brought September’s chaos and damaged city centre trade.
Initially due to start in December, the scheme had been postponed to help retailers cope after the difficult Christmas period caused by the ongoing flag row.
The development work is set to last until mid-June.
A number of busy city roads will be affected by the work which aims to enable buses to bypass queues, reduce the number of motorists and improve traffic flow.
That’s set to include Great Victoria Street, Grosvenor Road, Fisherwick Lane/College Square East, College Avenue and Wellington Place, which will all face the considerable upheaval of lane reallocation and the construction of new bus lanes. Victoria Street and Ann Street will be among those receiving cycle lanes.
Work on the transport masterplan is to be carried out overnight and during off-peak periods.
Translink’s Ciaran Rogan has said that since the first phase of the scheme was completed, Metro services have increased by around 1,500 passengers per day, while use of park and ride facilities have seen a 15% rise.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, who proposed the Christmas delay on behalf of hard-hit retailers, has appealed for the public to be “patient” and allow extra time for their journey.