26th Jun 2020 in Business
In a direct response to promoting social distancing measures, Infrastructure Minister Mallon announced in early May a wide array of positive pilot projects throughout Belfast city centre to improve sustainable travel and access for the residents and employees across the City.
These included widening pavements, introducing cycle lanes and pedestrianisation of roads throughout the City and it’s been a great opportunity to take a significant leap forward in the City’s connectivity for those on foot, cycle and public transport for a city centre which we all welcome and will improve the quality of the city centre experience.
Context – the City needs to change…
Belfast throughout the last 40 years has historically been designed around car usage, with quick and easy arterial routes close to the City core, allowing people to park closely to the city centre. This has resulted in significant concerns, such as a noticeable increase in air pollution levels resulting in Belfast rising to the eighth most congested city in the UK.
The ‘Belfast Agenda’, led by the Belfast City Council, has aspirations for significant population growth in the city centre. Car dominated spaces are not attractive to investors and developers, and more importantly future residents. Quality of life and how we experience and explore the City Centre is pivotal. We have a city that is incredibly walkable and we would encourage and build upon the Department of Infrastructure’s (DFI) latest projects to develop a well-connected city centre. Belfast City Councils ‘A Bolder Vision for Belfast’ articulates this well and has identified a range of next steps and actions which will improve the quality of life for residents, employees, and visitors.
So Cathedral Quarter..
Hill Street is a key night time economy destination for hospitality and leisure. Our restaurants, bars and pubs, and cultural venues at the heart of the city centre draw footfall and make it a fantastic destination for resident and visitors.
As part of our Night Time Economy accreditation, through the ‘Purple Flag’ process, there was a noticeable amount of feedback around traffic. This was particularly focused on Hill Street and Gordon Street during the evening period and at weekends. The BID has had widespread support for an evening economy pedestrianisation proposals for some time (Friday 6pm – Monday 3am) and was commencing conversations around this when the full pedestrianisation pilot was implemented.
Hill Street is more akin to a taxi rank during the evening hours, something which is a public safety issue for those enjoying hostelries but also from a health perspective and not in keeping with our ambitions to provide a welcome experience.
Alongside this we have a vibrant daytime economy of professional services and creative industries located in the area. Whilst the majority of businesses use surrounding parking spaces in nearby streets and car parks, there are in fact several privately accessed car parks alongside a vast amount of deliveries and appointments all serviced from these premises. With this in mind the area provides a logistical dilemma for those proposing measures to pedestrianise.
The current scheme
A traffic order was implemented in May running though until mid-august, closing Hill Street and Gordon Street. This prohibits traffic accessing the street and allows business access only.
DFI Road Service signage has been placed at Hill Street and Gordon Street to make people aware of the legislation. At present these have taken the form of cones and signage and haven’t been successful in communicating the access restrictions.
As businesses re-boot and re-open we will see the area become increasingly populated, with employers and employees returning to work. This will be enhanced with hospitality businesses re-opening in the coming week therefore it is important to engage and reinforce the measures currently in situ.
This project remains temporary. As reoccupation continues and a degree of normality returns, we call on DFI to begin a formal consultation process to understand the options for the area going forward.
We will be commencing a formal consultation and engagement process working with Belfast City Council and DFI over the next few weeks and months ahead.
This needs a proper discussion, straw polls on twitter and social media are great anecdotal views but some detailed discussion around how it affects businesses, employees and visitors is needed to provide DFI with the full picture.
Exploring options – we will be hosting webinars, drop-ins and 1-2-1s with the business residents to gather a detailed analysis of what’s working and what won’t. It’s important that we consider:
- Is it every day / all day?
- Is it time limited?
- Do we need physical barriers?
We will be working closely with Department for Infrastructure and businesses in and around the area to facilitate this discussion. Colleagues at the PSNI and our CQ Street beat Team will be assisting to gauge opinion, practicalities and necessary next steps.
For more information and get registered your for future conversations please email firstname.lastname@example.org