Editor's Viewpoint: City plan centres on speedy action
Looking at the area around Belfast's City Hall today with its constant buzz of traffic and scores of buses picking up and letting off passengers, it is difficult to imagine it as a pedestrian-friendly zone where people could wander about unhindered by vehicles, sit at an outdoor café or enjoy some performance art.
Yet that is the sort of future for the area envisaged by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.
He wants to remove traffic from the front and sides of the City Hall and turn May Street into a two-way thoroughfare. It is a bold plan which would give the city centre a continental feel, making it a place for relaxation, retailing and entertainment rather than a constantly busy through route for private and public transport. It would enhance both the daytime and night-time economies and attract more people to one of the most important commercial hubs in the province.
But there is one huge problem to overcome as the minister concedes. What can be done with the traffic and especially the buses? Belfast's road network is like a cartwheel with most arterial routes leading directly into the city centre.
There are few radial routes to accommodate cross-town traffic and diverting traffic from three sides of the City Hall will be a major undertaking. Better park and ride facilities and alternative transport systems may provide part of the answer.
Too often our political leaders seem to lack imagination but certainly Mr McCausland cannot be accused of that in this instance. There are problems to be overcome, but the potential benefits could far outweigh any difficulties.
It would also provide an incentive for entrepreneurs to develop new businesses and a wider range of attractions to add vibrancy to the area and make it a must-visit location.
Having outlined this vision, it is imperative that work to make it a reality proceeds as quickly as possible as otherwise the impetus for change could be lost.