Demand for pedestrian zones to be made permanent after Primark fire
A petition calling for pedestrian areas in Belfast City Centre to be made permanent has gathered hundreds of signatures.
Castle Place and a number of surrounding streets have been closed to traffic since a devastating blaze gutted the Bank Buildings housing Primark's flagship store last August.
In a bid to entice shoppers back to the city centre, the council set up colourful pedestrian zones complete with play areas, novelty seating and artificial grass.
It's expected the streets will re-open for traffic, including bus services, once the extensive repairs are complete.
However, more than 700 people have now signed a petition demanding a permanent pedestrian paradise. Started by the Northern Ireland Greenways group, it said the "bleak" situation caused by the fire was turned around by a "magic move" from Belfast City Council.
The newly pedestrianised core, they said, helped to increase pre-Christmas shopper numbers by 20% and made the city centre "fun, more attractive as a destination and wonderfully family friendly".
The petition added: "All the while there was no traffic noise, fumes or danger. And the city still works around the core - buses still move, cars still park, deliveries get made."
Removing the play parks and allowing traffic back in, they said, would be "wrong, unnecessary and wasteful".
"Belfast has had a working example of the kind of liveable, traffic-free city core that many other cities around the world are actively creating - and we're about to return to clogging the city up with vehicles, ploughing hundreds of buses through shopping and leisure streets that are now thriving without them," said the petition.
The petition also proposes an evaluation of how Metro services are coping with the current diversions while ensuring reasonable access to loading and service vehicles, with priority provision for disabled parking bays on the approaches to the area.
A Belfast City Council spokesperson responded: "Following the fire at Bank Buildings and the resulting cordon, Council and its partners took the opportunity to trial a number of projects as part of our city centre recovery work, including the temporary pop-up park at Castle Place.
"We will share all feedback we receive with our city partners as we continue to look at ways to reimagine how our city centre spaces are used in the future and we have other activities planned for other locations in the coming months.
"Council does not have responsibility for traffic management in Belfast, and any plans to permanently pedestrianise parts of the city centre would be a decision for other agencies," added the spokesperson.