Northern Ireland news

Organisers of 'Open Ormeau' drop plans to close road to traffic

Ormeau Road in south Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann.

SUPPORTERS of a plan to create a European-style pedestrian zone on a busy arterial route in Belfast have dropped proposals to close the road to traffic.

Concerns had been raised by Ormeau Road traders following the suggestion it could be shut over some weekends to allow bars, restaurants and cafes to expand out into the road.

The project aims to "provide more space for walking, queuing and socialising in light of the Covid-19 restrictions".

The original plan would have seen the key route in and out of Belfast city centre closed to traffic from the Park Road junction to Parador Lodge - apart from buses, blue badge holders and residential parking.

However, in a final proposal from 'Open Ormeau', organisers say the road will now "remain open to through traffic at all times".

It states that traffic will be "reduced to one lane of through-traffic in each direction with lanes designated as cycle-priority and with a 10mph speed limit in place during trial periods".

They said the initial road closure idea did not receive the backing of all businesses who "did not believe that any increase in people arriving by foot, bicycle or public transport would adequately make up for lost trade from customers arriving by car".

Details of the final proposal were revealed as a Belfast City Council committee yesterday agreed to look at running a pilot of the Open Ormeau initiative, which was first mooted by architect and resident CiarĂ¡n Fox.

Initially it was to run every weekend of the summer, with measures in place from Friday at 6pm to Sunday at 11pm, but in the final proposal those hours have been reduced.

Organisers said: "Whilst there was a lot of support for this, many residents and businesses said this was too much, too soon.

"Today's proposal is for three shorter trial periods in August which would feed into a proposed statutory consultation on whether one Open Ormeau Saturday and Sunday should take place in September."

The suggested time slots are Sunday August 16 from 1pm to 10pm, Saturday August 22 from 9am to 11pm, the following Saturday from 4pm to 11pm and Sunday August 30 all day until 11pm.

Mr Fox said: "We are in an extraordinary time and we need to find ways to adapt the use of our built environment for the benefit of all. Now it is time to try, listen, learn and improve".

Christina Taylor, who runs Shed Bistro, said: "Having the space to safely seat diners outside would have a huge impact on our business.

"We worry that residents can't currently walk down the Ormeau Road safely and we think that giving people more safe space to walk and businesses to expand onto the pavement will benefit everyone."

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown said council officials will work with Open Ormeau volunteers to "aid the design and facilitation of the trial, recognising the lead time required and the need for consultation, and subject to council approval and budgets being available".

"I have spoken to a significant number of people with a range of views on these plans, as well as local businesses, so hope that the decision to look at running a pilot will enable both those who support or oppose the plans, and indeed people who have yet to make up their mind, to contribute," he said.

"In reality, we can only see how these things would work in practice by trying them out, and a pilot would provide a safe, managed space to do this."

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