THE man in charge of managing Ulster’s main shopping hub says the authorities must halt their road revamp – and put everything back the way it was.
Andrew Irvine, Belfast city centre manager, made the call after what he describes as the “almost laughable” roll-out of the new road layout at the heart of the Province’s capital.
After several weeks of disruption, he now says enough is enough.
He said work currently under way should be stopped, then the transport network restored to its old layout – minus the bus and cycle lanes which have caused confusion and congestion.
“Take them out, get rid of them, put it back the way it was and let’s have a proper consultation about how to take this forward,” he said.
“We believe these bus lanes are so fundamentally flawed they need to come out.”
He was especially angered by what he says was a failure to discuss the changes.
“The people who get to judge the consultation are the audience,” he said.
“And the audience – the businesses in Belfast city centre – are clearly sending a message that the information and consultation have been wholly inadequate.
“How come the whole of Belfast was so shocked when it came in?”
Mr Irvine heads the Belfast City Centre Management Company Ltd, part owned by the council, the Department for Social Development and the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Joe Jordan, the head of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, echoed his call, and said things like out-of-town car parks should have been put in place way before any of the new layout was introduced.
“The biggest frustration for us is: why now?” he said.
“Why the run-up to Christmas? The risk here isn’t only a loss of trade. It’s jobs going, people unable to pay rates bills, more shops becoming vacant.”
The call followed a meeting between councillors and the Department for Regional Development (which is behind the roads scheme), convened by Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson.
It agreed a monitoring group will meet every fortnight to keep tabs on the roads plan and point out flaws.
Mr Robinson said: “I think we all need to get pro-actively involved – but the upheaval of trying to put it back the way it was would cause more consternation and confusion.”
The DRD maintained there had been a full consultation in 2010, and said in a statement: “We are continuously monitoring traffic flows in the city centre area both on the ground and by CCTV to minimise delays to traffic.
“The department would stress that Belfast city centre remains open for business. While there are some delays in the rush hour during the day traffic is moving smoothly on the city centre streets.”