Hard-pressed Belfast traders have been promised there will be no city centre roadworks in the run-up to Christmas.
Under pressure over recent traffic chaos in the city, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy told the Assembly: “There is no war on motorists.”
He was quizzed by MLAs after commuters faced long delays last week, and the city at rush hour periods ground to a standstill.
He said he had met with the city’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce and Belfast City Centre Management representatives and pledged to work together in the period leading up to Christmas.
“I reassured (them) that we have no plans for city centre roadworks in the pre-Christmas period,” he said.
The minister stopped short of a formal apology to motorists, but said the recent hold-ups had been “regrettable”.
“Let me make it clear that there is no war on motorists. It is regrettable some people suffered disruption to their journeys during the bedding-in period,” he said.
This referred to roadworks in the city centre which are part of the DRD’s Belfast On The Move initiative which aims to provide increased priority for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.
It includes new bus lanes for public transport, emergency vehicles, cycles, motorbikes and permitted taxis, which are operational from 7am until 7pm.
Responding to questions from the DUP’s Peter Weir, Sinn Fein’s Cathal O hOisin and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness, Mr Kennedy added: “One of the objectives of the project is to persuade people who drive through the city centre without a destination there to travel around the city centre.
“That will free up street space for more sustainable modes of transport and for people who need to drive into the city centre for shopping, work or leisure.
“It is designed to make car and bus journeys faster and easier.
“When new road layouts are introduced, it takes time for everyone to get used to the new arrangements.
“It is the same for Belfast On The Move, and it will take time before the full benefits are realised.”
Mr O hOisin said members of the regional development committee had gone to visit the rapid transport systems in Nantes in France and Dublin, which transport half-a-million people morning and evening.
Referring to the Nantes trip, Mr Kennedy said: “It is worth saying that Belfast On The Move is the precursor, if you like, of that. Therefore, it is important that Belfast On The Move be allowed to bed in.”
“The plan, and my expectation and hope, is that we can progress to a rapid transit system for the city of Belfast that will help to move people, whatever their business is, on work, shopping or leisure visits.
"My commitment is to enhance the public transport experience in Belfast in line with that of other European cities, such as Nantes.”
Bus lanes brought chaos to the morning commute last week by creating bottlenecks in Belfast city centre. Rain and malfunctioning traffic lights compounded the problem, leaving some late for work, children late for school and shops without deliveries or shoppers.
Economist John Simpson said the cost of the disruption to the economy runs into millions of pounds.