Northern Ireland news

Traffic ban on Belfast's Hill Street stalls because department is short staffed

Hill Street in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter. Picture by Hugh Russell
John Manley Political Correspondent

Plans to consult on the pedestrianisation of a busy thoroughfare in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter have been put on hold due to a lack of staff resources.

Fresh proposals to restrict vehicle access on Hill Street were developed by officials from the Department for Infrastructure last year.

It followed the previous temporary pedestrianisation of Hill Street in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The then infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon closed the route to traffic in a bid to encourage more walking and cycling in the city.

However, there were complaints at the time that the ban on vehicles was not being enforced.

Her successor John O'Dowd last year signalled that he planned to explore permanent pedestrianisation and said his officials were due to engage with the public on the proposal.

However, The Irish News can reveal that a planned public consultation has stalled due to what the Department for Infrastructure describes as "on-going issues with staff resources and exceptionally high workloads".

A DfI spokesperson said the plan to restrict vehicles on Hill Street "remains part of our longer term agenda".

"We regret the delay and disappointment that this has caused to our customers but, unfortunately at this stage, we are unable to confirm when our resources will be available to allow us to progress this important piece of work," the spokesperson said.

Hill Street in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter on a busy night. Picture from Twitter

SDLP representative Carl Whyte said he was given assurances almost a year ago by the relevant statutory bodies that the consultation on the proposed pedestrianisation would soon be launched.

"There is widespread agreement in the area around future options for a car-free street and I was shown a draft document, including maps, which would be shared with the public," he said.

"Nearly one year after this meeting, this consultation still has not been launched nor it appears are there any plans to do so – the Department for Infrastructure’s approach to Hill Street seems to be no plan, no progress and no pedestrianisation."