Northern Ireland road bosses 'ignored majority opinion' to impose 20mph zones
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A controversial 20mph speed limit was introduced in central Belfast despite the majority of people who responded to a public consultation opposing the measure, it has been revealed.
The speed limit was cut on 76 roads across two weeks ago.
The move has divided opinion, with some claiming it is a further step towards Belfast becoming a cold house for motorists.
Now it has emerged that two-thirds of people who took part in a consultation were against cutting the speed limit.
Only six out of 19 responses received during the three-week exercise in 2014 supported a 20mph zone, although the Department for Regional Development said there was strong online support.
The details emerged after an Assembly question from Ukip MLA David McNarry.
Mr McNarry, who sits on Stormont's regional development committee, branded the consultation "a sham".
"It is clear the Department for Regional Development had already made its mind up," he said.
"This consultation was clearly a box-ticking exercise. Why else would the department ignore the findings?
"It is contemptible how they treat the public with contempt.
"This also brings into question all consultations and how departments react irrespective of public opinion."
The 20mph speed limit came into force on January 31, three months later than planned.
It had been due to take effect on October 12, but was postponed to minimise disruption to Christmas shoppers.
The zone includes May Street at the back of City Hall, extends to the Cathedral Quarter and past the back of Castlecourt shopping centre.
Plans to cut the speed limit had been in the pipeline for more than six years. A full public consultation was carried out in July 2014 as part of the legislative process.
The proposals were advertised in three daily newspapers and allowed 22 days for any representations or objections.
DRD said 19 responses were received. These included:
- Nine objections, from five members of the public, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and a member of the Institute of Advance Motorists.
- Two requests for more information on how to object.
- Six responses supporting the proposal in principle, from a member of the public, Sustrans, an A&E consultant, NI Cycling Initiative, Belfast City Council, and Belfast City Centre Management.
- Two representations containing general comments about bus lanes, disabled parking and existing slow-moving traffic in Belfast city centre.
Responding to Mr McNarry's question, Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said: "A pre-consultation phase for the Northern Ireland Road Safety Strategy was carried out between March 2009 and February 2010.
"This involved engagement with 500-plus stakeholders to identify key road safety issues and draft solutions. An extensive public consultation was then carried out in March 2010. This confirmed a general support for pilot 20mph signed only schemes."
But Mr McNarry said the consultation showed the lack of support for 20mph speed limits.
He added: "This consultation was an absolute sham. On the basis of the responses, there is clear evidence that people do not want a 20mph speed limit, and they should scrap it."
A DRD spokeswoman said: "The consultation showed overwhelming support for the introduction of 20mph zones as a roads safety measure to protect vulnerable road users, with 76% of online respondents supporting 20mph zones."