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Fresh start for £150m rapid transit proposal

The Department of Regional Development (DRD) is to abandon plans for a light railway track alongside the Comber Greenway — but will still go ahead with a rapid transport system in Belfast.

Yesterday (Wednesday, October 12) the Transport Minister Danny Kennedy launched the public consultation for the routes for the new pilot network which was costed at £150m in 2008.

The consultation document sets out six different viable options for the route. East Belfast residents in years to come could find themselves using:

CITI Route – From the River Lagan, Belfast Rapid Transit will run on Queen Elizabeth Bridge, Queen’s Quay and Queen’s Road into Titanic Quarter; returning via Station Street, Bridge End and Queen’s Bridge to join the one-way city centre loop.

EWAY Route – From a new park and ride site near Quarry Corner, Belfast Rapid Transit will run on-street along Upper Newtownards Road, through Dundonald Village to Holywood Arches and via Albertbridge Road and East Bridge Street through to join the one-way city centre loop.

As part of the options assessment process the Department will also consider a ‘next best’ option:

EWAY – From Holywood Arches, via the Newtownards Road (lower section) and Bridge End to join the one-way city centre loop.

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Mr Kennedy said his recent trip to see the rapid transit system in Nantes, France, had shown “how a city of comparable size to Belfast can significantly increase the use of public transport and reduce the reliance on the private car.”

East Belfast MLA Michael Copeland said: “The Rapid Transit System will help to regenerate some of the most socially deprived areas of Belfast and will help to put in place links between areas that have become detached over the last number of decades.

“One concern I do have though is that the lack of public parking in some of the areas the system will pass through could lead to local traders losing out.”

Alderman Jim Rodgers said he had had several meetings with the Minister on this subject. “The previous minister — Conor Murphy — seemed determined the Greenway was going to be used for the Rapid Transport System.

“I am pressing for more to be done and we do need to spend some money on this despite the DRD budget cuts,” he added.

Naomi Long, east Belfast MP said: “This is a major step forward for the community in east Belfast. I am delighted that the Greenway is no longer the Department's preferred route, as it provides such an important resource for east Belfast.

“I would encourage people to actively engage in the consultation as it is a valuable opportunity to make their views known and to secure both the future of the Greenway free from development and also investment in high quality public transport in East Belfast, two very important objectives,” she added.

Belfast Lord Mayor, Niall O Donnghaile said: “This represents a significant step towards development of a modern, safe, accessible and integrated transportation system for Belfast.”

The public consultation on the proposal will begin on January 6, 2012 and locals can view the proposals at Ballyhackamore Library next Wednesday, October 19, from 1pm-5:30pm and Thursday from 1:30pm-8pm; Connswater Shopping Centre on, October 22, from 9am-5pm; Belfast City Hall October 24-28, 9am-5pm and East Belfast Partnership offices from October 24 to January 6.

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