A statement by Roger Morgan, Principal Engineer, at the Downpatrick Masterplan last week that there was no significant congestion problem in Downpatrick at the area Masterplan meeting has caused shock and concern to all the main players in planning the future of Downpatrick.
Chairing the Masterplan meeting, Cllr Cadogan Enright rejected the comments as ‘ludicrous’. “Every study over the last ten years has highlighted the congestion issue. Council has been involved with a DSD led initiative involving all Government departments for several years to deliver on programmes identified in the Downpatrick Masterplan. I have attended these meetings along with previous Roads Service managers as part of the Masterplan Steering Group. We have been attempting to deal with the constraints identified in the Masterplan – principally the accessibility of the town and surrounding areas for vehicular traffic serving both local residents and visitors to the town.”
Cllr Enright believes that the statement by the Principal Engineer may also explain why there has been a failure to advance previously identified schemes to deal with the congestion problem in Downpatrick by Roads Service.
Cllr Cadogan Enright pointed out that “studies confirm the inability of the roads infrastructure to support significant economic development or even serve the needs of the existing residents.”
“These studies include the JMP Consultants Transport Proposals Report for DSD June 2010 and the Ferguson and McIlveen Development Plan for Downpatrick 2006 commissioned by Council itself. Roads Service has also carried out a number of studies under the auspices of the Sub-regional Transport Plan for the area. The Ards/Down Area Plan and the Masterplan envisages an Eastern Bypass to serve the industrial and employment centres to the South of the Town, This is reflected in the DSD Masterplan, along with a Southern Relief Road and ‘New Street’ to take through traffic away from the congested centre and set the foundations for a critical mass of population of up to 25,000.” Said Cllr Enright and he highlighted that in launching the Area plan in 2009 the then Minister Sammy Wilson stated,
“The plan also identifies the site for a new bypass for Ballynahinch and new distributor roads for both Newtownards and Downpatrick to alleviate traffic circulation issues in those towns”
Cllr Enright confirmed that he had referred this matter to his fellow councillors and Council was now seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Regional Development Northern Ireland.
“This represents an admission that Roads Service are not serious about tackling the congestion problem. Clearly senior officials do not see the traffic situation in Downpatrick as a problem at all. This may in part explain why Roads Service have failed to progress the many major and minor schemes which have been presented by Roads Service at their regular meetings with Down Council over the last 6 years.” Concluded Cllr Cadogan Enright
Downpatrick serves a large, mainly rural hinterland dependent on the private car for travel to access the town and beyond.
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.
· The main road network in the town centre converges at the constrained Arts Centre junction of Market Street, Irish Street, Scotch Street, English Street and Church Street. Market Street and Irish Street function as local distributors for traffic to and from residential and commercial areas of Downpatrick. They also act as routes for through traffic, in addition to their role as shopping streets.
· The layout of the junction at Market Street/Irish Street makes the movements of large vehicles particularly challenging.
· The main north-south route through Downpatrick includes Belfast Road, Church Street and Market Street. Commercial activity in the town centre is focused along Market Street and St Patrick’s Avenue, with some activities on parts of Irish Street. Irish Street and Killough Road link with Market Street at the Irish Street/Market Street junction.
In addition, there are a number of minor roads in the town centre which act as links between the main routes. Market Street and Irish Street, as a result, function as local traffic distributor roads, in addition to their role as shopping areas.
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 the industrial and employment centres to the South of the Town, This is reflected in the DSD Masterplan, along with a Southern Relief Road around Dunleath Park and ‘New Street’ to take through traffic away from the congested centre and set the foundations for a critical mass of population of up to 25,000.
The recent transfer of the Council Offices to the new Downshire Public Sector Campus site 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. Council has been endeavouring to elicit information on the status of these programs with a series of formal requests and FoI applications.
This situation has become so serious that late last year Cllrs Enright, McConMidhe and 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.
Councillor Cadogan Enright
Down District Council