It is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in Northern Ireland, but residents say historic Hillsborough's reputation is being tarnished by the number of heavy goods vehicles treating it as a "rat run".
Not only is the number of lorries passing through the Co Down village “ridiculous”, those living there say damage is being done to the listed buildings along the main street, business is suffering and after a number of near misses involving children and elderly people, it’s only a matter of time before a life is lost.
“We have been building towards this for years,” said Dawn McEntee, a member of Hillsborough and District Committee, who lives with husband Ken on Main Street in the village.
“The situation is ridiculous and despite years of telling the authorities of our concerns, nothing has been done.
“We have listed buildings along the main street and we have single glazing that can’t be touched. Our homes shake when the lorries pass, and this goes on from 5.30 in the morning until late at night.
“The village is being used as a short cut, but the road isn’t fit for purpose.
“We had Phoenix Gas arrive for works earlier this year and thought that would cause more mayhem, but in the end the lorries were diverted away from the village and we were all able to get a peaceful night’s sleep. We shouldn’t have to put up with it.”
Struggling to be heard over the traffic, Dawn isn’t surprised when a lorry stops half way along the hill that’s such a feature of the town.
“Look,” she says as another HGV is prevented from getting past. “That’s the norm for us. The village is being strangled.”
Husband Ken said the problem goes even deeper.
“We have two schools here. We have called for a 20mph limit but we’re told that’s not happening. We have 600 cars passing through the village between 7.30-8.30am and add the lorries on top of that, with cars parked along both sides of the road, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
"There are junctions at the top and bottom of the hill which lorries can’t turn without crossing the white lines in the middle of the road. We regularly have two lorries jammed in the road causing tailbacks as they can’t get past each other. Traffic backs up. It’s madness that the authorities can’t do something.”
Over 200 residents met with local authorities on September 26 and will meet again this Thursday night, but are not holding out much hope that common sense will prevail.
Another main Street resident, Helen Nilen, said that while money is being spent on promoting Hillsborough as a tourist hot spot, the infrastructure around the village is being badly neglected.
“We have Hillsborough Castle, a fantastic country park and people want to come here to visit,” she said. “But there’s nowhere for anyone to park. We don’t even have a zebra crossing to let people get across the main road. As it is, the road is too dangerous given the number of lorries using our village as a short cut. We have the A1 dual carriageway running past, but Hillsborough has now become a bypass for the bypass.
“We have no issue with lorries delivering or coming to the village for business reasons, but the number passing through from early in the morning until late at night is getting worse and worse”.
“This is a conservation area,” said Roy Hanna, who lives on the Carnreagh Road on the outskirts of the town.
“Where is the effort to conserve the fabric of the village? We’ve been trying in earnest since 2013 to have something done and this time we’re not going to go away. I can;t believe how dangerous the road is. Parents won’t let their children walk to school and that adds to the problems on the road. It’s like whacky races, cars can’t get stopped and it’s preventing people from coming into a town marketed as a wonderful place to visit. It can be absolute mayhem.”
William Edens, who runs the popular Humble Pie coffee shop, said deliveries and staff parking have become major issues, and that the traffic now passing through the village is harmful to trade.
“We live in a beautiful part of Northern Ireland, but everything we have in our favour is being ruined by the number of lorries passing through.
“This is a village that the authorities should be protecting and improving, but instead they’re turning people away by ignoring the obvious problem.”
Fred Walker, another Carnreagh Road resident, said that while the increasing number of young families moving into the area was welcome, the infrastructure around the village hasn’t been upgraded to cope.
“No zebra crossing, not limit on the weight of lorries, the state of the grass verges and the narrow road all create problems,” he said. “People have been turning a blind eye to the issues, but there’s an accident waiting to happen.
“New developments have gone up around the village, there are more young families than ever, but people simply can’t drive up and down the main street. It’s an absurd situation that could be easily fixed if anyone was willing to do it, but no-one will listen.”
Nessa O’Callaghan is chair of Hillsborough and District Committee.
“This is not simply a group of older people complaining,” she said. “We’ve been dismissed that way before,
“We’ve put up with this for far too long and if the authorities are dedicated to protecting the heritage of this village we need to stop these lorries using it. That means not simply diverting them on to other roads that are not fit for purpose, that means keeping them away from the area completely unless they have business in the village.”
The problem has become so bad that one man says he is confined to living at the back of his house.
“We just can’t use the front bedroom any more,” said main street home owner Eddie Parks. “We’ve moved to the back just to get a night;s sleep.”
Having heard the complaints, the Belfast Telegraph discovered the extent of the problem leaving the village on the Lisburn Road. Two lorries, travelling in opposite directions, were jammed. Care were parked along both sides of the road. The school run was underway. Cars were stopped, people getting out to see what the problem was.
That incident, along with many others concerning the village, will be discussed at another public meeting in Hillsborough Village Centre at 8pm on Thursday night.