Coleraine’s traffic system has been described as being ‘only designed for a horse and cart’.
Independent Councillor William McCandless was speaking about the ongoing issue of congestion in and around the town at the August meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens council.
Councillor McCandless addressed the issue following a deputation from DfI Roads, when Colin Hutchinson, Divisional Roads Manager, updated members on their Spring programme 2021.
The Coleraine DEA Councillor said: “I do appreciate that since the emergence of Covid, many people have been afforded the opportunity of working from home and thereby reducing rush hour traffic.
“However, in anticipation that we will be returning to normality hopefully sometime soon, what progress is being made, particularly in relation to the traffic congestion in Coleraine.
“I refer back to the report in the Belfast Telegraph February 2018 which highlighted that traffic congestion on Northern Ireland’s roads cost over £1.1bn. This basically refers to motorists stuck in the morning and evening rush hour traffic.
“The study was conducted by INRIX and it reported that the total cost of congestion to the UK was a staggering £37.7bn.
“I would have thought that when you look at those figures that Coleraine would have got priority for some schemes because in Northern Ireland Coleraine came third after Belfast and Londonderry with traffic jams in Coleraine costing £38m.
“I do appreciate you may want to dispute these figures, however, there is no getting around it, even if you reduce these figures by 20 per cent or even reduce them by 30 per cent, these figures are colossal. This is estimated to affect Northern Ireland GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 2.4 per cent.
“I would like to ask, what is the master plan for Coleraine, what progress has been implemented, what progress has been planned to alleviate the congestion around the town?
“How would Coleraine ever hope to achieve city status if a bid was being made for it while we have a traffic system which many of our residents refer to as ‘still only designed for a horse and cart’ ?
“If we look at a few simple examples – Union Street. Due to drivers’ reluctance to filter across to get to Brook Street, the traffic piles up on the Millburn and Portrush Road. Compound that when the railway line closes at Bushmills Road and it comes down to where I live at the Boulevard.
“We had ideas which were floated years ago. A third bridge for traffic, a road from Railway Road at the leisure centre to take traffic to the ring road. Where are those plans and are they still being investigated, will they ever come to fruition or have they been binned?
“Coleraine town centre – I appreciate you may need to work in tandem with DfC on this one but the pavia on the High Street is not fit for purpose. It is not fit to cope with the heavy goods vehicles delivering to premises and it poses serious trip hazards in a so-called pedestrian area.
“Residents parking – It has been requested by residents at Lower Circular Road for years and every time I ask it’s the same old story, trials are being conducted in Belfast and Londonderry. Why not conduct a trial in Coleraine?
Responding to Councillor McCandless, Colin Hutchinson said: “With regards to the residents’ parking, the trials have been completed in Belfast and the Minister has committed to review the outcomes of those which are very complex.
“Once she has made a decision on that, that will hopefully allow the scheme to be pushed out to a wider audience.
“We are more than happy to work with DfC on the pavia blocks in Coleraine town centre if there is a scheme to upgrade. I know there was some work done around the town hall a few years ago which still looks very well.
“With regards to the traffic system in Coleraine, I live in Coleraine and see the traffic in Coleraine on a daily basis. Whilst it can be frustrating at certain points in time, the traffic flows quite well and traffic progression is quite good. Even if you are sitting in a queue, it does move fairly quickly.
“That said, you mentioned a few ambitious plans. That said perhaps in the past, going back 10 years at least, those are the types of plans that would be included in the Sub Regional Transport Plan which I understand is being updated and the strategy would be set out there.
“With regards to congestion the big move here now is to get away from putting people in cars and having them travel round the town and that’s part of the reason this Blue Green money is being made available to make active travel attractive within Northern Ireland but it’s a long term plan. We do look at traffic congested areas and we do improve.
“We have been dealing with years and years of under investment and we are working with a small pot of capital money and resource money and delivering to the highest priorities within the area.”
Councillor McCandless suggested they ‘agree to disagree’ adding: “Seriously, you are living in this town and you say our traffic flows, well, you must be driving around the ring roads all the time.
“As for under-investment, I’ve only been a councillor for 11 years and that’s the story I keep hearing all the time. Coleraine needs major investment, it’s the capital town in this borough, we need to see some action on it.”
PUP Councillor Russel Watton agreed saying; “We are in despair. A cart and horse town is a good description.
“I don’t see much easement at all and my problem is when the new Northern regional College is built on Union Street with 900 pupils and 300 staff, what happens when they start? What will the traffic be like then because we can all see how bad it is now, it will be chaotic.”
Speaking after the meeting Councillor McCandless said: “To have Coleraine mentioned as the third worst in Northern Ireland for traffic congestion, to have it highlighted in the press three years ago, I would have felt deserved an immediate action plan,”he said. “Clearly it was dismissed and ignored at the time.”
He added that Coleraine residents had to “suffer the frustration” of traffic flow on a daily basis.
“In relation to Coleraine high street, the pavia has given problems for years, continually patching it up. It is a mess for the principal town in the borough.
“As for residents parking, no consideration is being given to Coleraine. DFI have been discussing this for years and they clearly have got nowhere.
“I wasn’t even afforded the courtesy of a follow-up meeting to have the problems they have encountered explained to me so that I could advise the residents of Circular Road.
“The DEA councillors are the people on the ground listening to complaints, it would be advisable to listen to us,” he added.