Editor's Viewpoint: Better co-ordination of roadworks needed
There is nothing more infuriating to motorists than encountering roadworks during the rush hour. The seemingly endless queuing leads to frayed nerves and ill wishes towards all those responsible for the delays.
Think, then, of those drivers forced to use the Upper Newtownards Road, one of the main arterial routes into and out of Belfast city centre. In four years they have met roadworks 554 times - an average of once every three days.
It has to be accepted that busy roads need to be maintained and that unexpected problems can arise which demand immediate remedial treatment. These problems can include burst or blocked water and sewerage pipes, or faults in underground power or internet cabling, or gas pipelines.
Add in demands for new connections and it is evident that all eventualities cannot be foreseen. However, it is a commonly held view that utility companies and the Department for Infrastructure could co-ordinate their work more closely so that the number of road openings could be reduced.
It is also felt work that can be scheduled should be done during school holidays or at weekends when traffic is lighter and hence disruption would be less severe. Of course, it is human nature that we all want pristine roads free of potholes but do not want to have our journeys interrupted while the necessary work is carried out.
Given the volume of traffic that passes along Belfast's main roads, it is little surprise that the top 10 routes affected by the works out of a list of 50 are all in the city or near its boundaries.
It is not only commuters who get hot under the collar at the sight of roadworks; shop and business owners are also infuriated.
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They blame the works as a factor in the fall off in their trade, along with the creation of bus lanes, which makes parking a lottery in certain areas of the city.
Those retailers and business owners have a valid point. They pay high rates and need passing custom to remain financially buoyant. To them roadworks are like watching income being thrown down a hole in the street.
The department argues that it does its best to co-ordinate work with utilities, and while it also has valid arguments, the public often just look at the disruption and the effect it has on their lives and ignore the reasons why that work is being carried out. Maintaining and upgrading our highways is sometimes a thankless task.
Conservation work to save red squirrels tree-mendous
A concerted effort to save the dwindling red squirrel population on the Ards Peninsula has had very encouraging results. At one stage it was estimated that there were only 10 of the native species left in the Mount Stewart Estate, but in the last three years the numbers have quadrupled.
Red squirrels are enchanting creatures and the volunteers are to be congratulated for their work. It means that children who have only ever seen grey squirrels in the wild can now view the red species which feature in so many of their story books. But the reds are still in danger from a virus carried by greys, and vigilance remains the watchword.