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'Huge concern' from shops over Belfast's Ormeau Road pedestrian plan

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Ormeau Road in south Belfast

Ormeau Road in south Belfast

Glyn Roberts

Glyn Roberts

Ormeau Road in south Belfast

The chief executive of Retail NI has expressed concern over plans to pedestrianise Belfast's Ormeau Road on summer weekends.

Glyn Roberts said that the views of traders were not being taken into consideration and the proposal could work only if it was supported by local businesses.

He said he had raised the issue with South Belfast SDLP MP Claire Hanna, and they had a "good discussion".

The 'Open Ormeau' initiative would see restaurants and bars expand outdoors, European cafe culture-style.

While it is popular with the hospitality industry, other businesses have argued that it will decimate their weekend trade.

Mr Roberts said: "We need to show imagination and creativity in revitalising our high streets and public places to deal with the impact of Covid-19.

"However, following extensive discussions with our members and the broader business community on the Ormeau Road, it is very clear that there is huge concern from them with the Open Ormeau proposals.

Retail NI is concerned that the views of the traders are not being taken into consideration.

This project can only work if there is buy-in from the local business community, and it is plain to see that is not the case."

He said he would be working closely with traders and politicians to develop "a new agreed strategy which can ensure the road bounces back from Covid-19 and can go from strength to strength".

SDLP, Alliance and Greens back the initiative, the MP said.

"While there is clearly room to compromise on scale, the idea of a few hours in the week where pedestrians get priority over cars is a very welcome one," Ms Hanna said.

"I will be working with residents and traders to see what common ground can be found."

The initial proposal of pedestrianising the Ormeau Road every summer weekend has been revised and the plan now is to do so on one weekend, and a separate Saturday and Sunday in August. Meanwhile, Open Ormeau has condemned sinister letters sent to two businessmen who oppose the initiative.

The correspondence was posted to Michael Goggin of Michael's Fresh Fruit & Vegetables, and Fergal McAdam of homeware store Neptune.

Ciaran Fox of Open Ormeau said: "Any attempt to silence or intimidate is completely unacceptable. Whoever is responsible is acting against the very ethos of Open Ormeau, which is all about a respectful community conversation.

"The residents involved in developing the Open Ormeau idea want all voices to be heard and have been working really hard to make sure this happens."

Mr Fox said everyone must feel comfortable expressing their views. "I encourage Michael and Fergal, and all other businesses and residents, to continue to speak out. This will help deliver the best outcome for everyone in the area."

Belfast Telegraph