Belfast Telegraph

Bus lanes: Beleaguered retailers claim snarl-ups only adding to their financial troubles

By Chris Kilpatrick

It was billed as the answer to Belfast's traffic problems.

But more than two years into Belfast On The Move, Northern Ireland's capital holds the unenviable title of the UK's most congested city - ahead of London.

And despite Government findings of an increase in footfall since controversial bus lanes sprung up throughout the city centre, there was scepticism among traders and commuters yesterday.

While the devastating impact of the recession is inescapable, business owners blamed traffic problems - and in particular bus lanes - for heaping on even further misery. DUP councillor Gavin Robinson had urged the use of bus lanes be relaxed in the run-up to Christmas to give beleaguered business owners every chance of boosting sales.

But his motion wasn't backed by fellow councillors and dismissed out of hand by DRD Minister Danny Kennedy.

A butcher, whose family has traded in the city centre for generations, said many independent retailers were on their knees.

"Absolutely the changes through Belfast On The Move have hit us hard," he said.

"Look around you, the shops are empty.

"People have been put off coming into the city centre. I say scrap them, they have only made things worse."

The owner of a jewellery store operating in the city centre for three decades said he was in no doubt the new road layout had hit takings in his business.

"I think they have to look at this again," he said.

"In principle I can see where they are coming from, but there isn't the infrastructure for it."

An electrical goods retailer in the city centre said the vital level of takings relied on over the Christmas period were a fraction of what they were three years ago. A straw poll of motorists was equally as negative.

A Newtownabbey commuter said he had no option but to take his car to work.

"It's a nightmare getting in and out of Belfast," he said.

"I think the changes they have made have made things worse."

A young couple from Belfast said they rarely travelled into the city centre due to traffic snarl-ups and problems with car parking.

"We have the wee boy and it's not practical to take the bus," one said.

"The traffic is shocking."

A city centre worker said many in his office stay on late at work to avoid jams.

"There's no point leaving and sitting in traffic," he added.

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