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McGurk's memorial "would be removed" if new motorway interchange goes ahead

scheme: The McGurk’s Bar mural at the junction of North Queen Street, Belfast Picture: Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

A MEMORIAL to victims of the McGurk's Bar bombing would have to be demolished if a new interchange linking the Westlink, M2 and M3 goes ahead in its current format, an inquiry into the project has been told.

A public inquiry into the proposed York Street Exchange, which aims to link the three main road networks to improve traffic flow at York Street for Westlink M2 and M3 traffic, opened yesterday in Belfast.

It also heard that a safety audit calculated that accidents in the area would increase by a third over a 60 year period if the current proposals went ahead.

The memorial, on North Queen Street in north Belfast, commemorates 15 people who lost their lives in the bar in a UVF bomb attack in December 1971.

Michael McGarry, from project consultants URS, said: "Several memorials including one to McGurk's Bar on North Queen Street would require removal in co-operation with Transport NI and residents."

A total of 53 letters and emails, the majority objections, have been received in relation to the planned interchange, which Transport NI says will improve connections between north Belfast and the city centre at a cost of between £125-£165 million and will take three years to complete.

Residents in the North Queen Street area have raised a number of concerns including air quality, access to light and the proximity of added traffic lanes to properties.

The inquiry also heard how a safety audit by URS calculated a 31 per cent increase in accidents over a 60 year period, and how a recommendation to close the Clifton Street on-slip due to concerns over accidents was dismissed.

URS also admitted it had “not undertaken” an analysis of future accidents if the Clifton Street junction remains open but said that “there are conditions that when met result in a recommendation not being implemented.”

Barrister Joe Brolly, representing Vector Improvements Ltd, which is proposing an alternative plan by making alterations to existing junctions, lambasted the proposals.

He said: “A 31 per cent increase in road accidents over 60 years is in this report. How can your conclusion be that you believe that will improve road safety?”

Mr Brolly added: “The report states that leaving Clifton Street open could lead to collisions. Closing Clifton Street kills the scheme, doesn't it? It states that closing it would make the project economically unviable. And the solution is: let's build it anyway. You're hoping for the best. You have no idea about the likelihood of future accidents.”

In a heated exchange, Jim Robb, who is heading the Department for Regional Development inquiry, intervened to “remind Mr Brolly that this is not a court and urge you to keep things harmonious.”

The director of the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland, Nigel Smyth, also told the inquiry CBI members “fully support the proposals” but called for a “shift to and greater investment in public transport.”

Roy Spiers, from Transport NI, said that the Cityside Shopping Complex would be “compensated” in the event of losing car parking spaces.

Paul O'Neill, a community worker with the Ashton Community Trust, said it was “scandalous” that government departments would not be using the project as an opportunity to “regenerate” areas around North Queen Street.

The inquiry, at Fisherwick Place Assembly Buildings, continues today with presentations from Vector Improvements Ltd and Belfast City Council.

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