Belfast Telegraph

Urgent talks demanded to ease gridlocked streets

By Victoria O'Hara

Roads Service chiefs have been urged to meet face-to-face with Belfast councillors to try to resolve deepening traffic congestion problems in the city centre.

This week the Lord Mayor revealed that he had approached the department over setting up a multi-agency forum but told the council: "It was not something the Department for Regional Development was keen on."

He made the remarks as councillors demanded an urgent meeting with Roads Minister Danny Kennedy after accusing DRD officials of "grandstanding" and "not being prepared to listen" to public concerns over traffic.

A war of words broke out after phase two of the Belfast On The Move project was intensified, with more bus lanes introduced in the city centre. Road chiefs insist revised transport links will alleviate congestion in the long-term.

But recent traffic jams have flared across the city and arterial routes, sparking concerns.

SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy said journey times throughout the city were taking longer.

"A journey that usually takes 10 to 15 minutes at the most took me an hour and 10 minutes," he said.

UUP man Jim Rodgers said the council needed to send out a "strong message".

"The Roads Service are not prepared to listen. We have twice a year Road Service officials come here to talk, but basically they are saying 'this is what we are going to do'.

During the council meeting, the Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson said he had previously led a forum with DRD representatives and key stakeholders of the city to address any concerns the Belfast On The Move project could have.

Mr Robinson said another "offer" was made to have a similar forum-style meeting during the next phase of the project.

"It was not something the Department for Regional Development were keen on," he said.

A spokesman for the DRD, however, said: "This is the Lord Mayor's forum and it is for him to reconvene."

But following the call for an urgent meeting the spokeswoman added: "We will be happy to meet with the council to discuss this issue."

Mr Robinson met the minister and a number of councillors yesterday to discuss a range of other issues regarding cycle lanes.

The DRD spokeswoman said: "The minister was pleased that the Lord Mayor again confirmed his commitment to ensuring that Belfast On The Move is progressed for the benefit of all the people who travel in the city."

They added that department officials are monitoring traffic flows closely. And "where appropriate" minor adjustments are made to traffic management arrangements as motorists become accustomed to the new road layouts.

Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association, however, said there was a great need for the forum.

"There are a number of things the DRD are doing, whether it is fixing Dee Street Bridge, or Ormeau Road Bridge which has led to gridlock and makes the situation of getting the Belfast On The Move phases through that more difficult.

"There are genuine concerns about gridlock. We support the Belfast On The Move project, we want public transport to be people's first choice but balancing the need of those consumers of the city centre."

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