I am greatly disappointed that an SDLP councillor has broken ranks with the cross-party Roads Task Force so early in the process of trying to ease congestion and facilitate jobs growth in the Downpatrick area. We cannot afford to replace practical plans to resolve these problems with vague platitudes and exhortations.
If Cllr Sharvin does not agree his fellow councillors advancing the conclusions of all the professional studies and plans commissioned to deal with these problems, he must at least advance alternatives to solving the congestion problem. Given the lack of Roads Service support for the town, any divisions on our own plans could be fatal.
The context of what we are trying to do is clear. Under the Ards Down Area plan 2015 Downpatrick is designated as a key sub-regional centre with the aspiration to support a critical mass of population of up to 25,000. But we are constrained by our roads system.
- The road networks in the town centre converge at the constrained Arts Centre junction of Market Street, Irish Street, Scotch Street, English Street and Church Street. Market Street, St Patricks Avenue and Irish Street function both the commercial centre of the town as well as local distributors for traffic to and from residential and commercial areas of Downpatrick.
- The layout of the junction at Market Street/Irish Street makes the movements of large vehicles particularly challenging.
- The A25 main through route includes Belfast Road, Church Street and Market Street. Links from Irish Street and Saint Patricks Avenue also act as distributor roads for a wide range of towns and villages to the South from Ballyhornan to Ardglass to Killough.
- However the capacity of roads in the Town Centre has not changed since the days of the horse and cart.
Through and local traffic, parking, carrying HGV’s and Translink buses all have specific demands on the street and the combinations of demand contribute to congestion.
The Ards/Down Area Plan and the Masterplan envisages an Eastern Bypass to serve new industrial and employment centres to the South of the Town. The Department of Social Development’s Masterplan for Downpatrick also reflects this, along with a Southern Relief Road around the edge of Dunleath Park and ‘New Street’ to take through traffic away from the congested centre. These conclusions were also supported by JMP Consultants Transport Proposals Report for DSD June 2010 and the Ferguson and McIlveen Development Plan for Downpatrick 2006 commissioned by Council itself.
The recent transfer of the Council and other offices to the new Downshire Public Sector Campus on the Ardglass Road has further exacerbated the already congested nature of the town, particularly at peak times. Six improvements to junctions identified by Roads Service to Council over the last six years were to be in place to meet this major change in employment distribution in the town.
This situation has become so serious that late last year that myself and Cllrs Eamonn McConMidhe and Dermot Curran moved council to set up a cross-party ‘Roads Task Force’ to ensure that all political parties in the District combined their efforts jointly to focus on an agreed agenda for dealing with congestion and roads issues.
Roads Service has failed to advance any of the above. Our Task Force has been endeavoring to elicit information on the status of these programs with a series of formal requests and FoI applications.
The land for Southern Relief Road from the Ardglass Road, around the back of the cinema and along the waste ground at the edge of Dunleath Park has the advantage of being owned and controlled by Council. Many studies have shown that when though traffic is removed from the congestion picture in any town, trading and commerce improves.
Given that our poor roads infrastructure has been used as a reason to prevent public sector jobs being located in the District, It behooves Cllr Sharvin to read the professional studies, and attend more of our meeting with the Roads Service to keep himself apprised of the realities on the ground.
Cllr Cadogan Enright