Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has today announced the first in a series of innovative green infrastructure initiatives to support recovery and changes in how we travel.
As a first step in her drive to deliver a sustainable infrastructure that will transform communities across Northern Ireland, Minister Mallon has confirmed work will begin next week to pedestrianise streets in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and extend waterfront spaces in Derry.
Minister Mallon said: “Since my appointment as Minister for Infrastructure, I made a commitment to deliver sustainable infrastructure that will transform our communities today and for the generations behind us. The changes I am making are innovative and creative. We are now living in a new normal and part of that is ensuring we create more opportunities for active travel, with more safe routes for walking and cycling. Some of the changes we will make have not been tested before. They may not all work, but we have an opportunity now to try new things and to learn from them. I will not let pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good.
“Next week work will get underway to trial the pedestrianisation of Hill Street and Gordon Street in Belfast. Until all road users become familiar with the new arrangements, I would ask everyone using this area to take extra care and adhere to the signage and temporary barriers.
“The first wave of temporary pavement widening in Belfast’s Linen Quarter will also begin. This will facilitate social distancing and prepare for increased use of our streets as lockdown restrictions are relaxed. My officials are liaising closely with local councils to see how similar initiatives can be rolled out across the North.
“Work will also begin in Derry to create extra space for people using the riverfront and in the weeks ahead, working closely with Derry City and Strabane District Council and other stakeholders, we will develop plans to reduce the traffic and improve conditions for pedestrians within the City Walls as businesses begin to reopen. We are also working with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council on quick and innovative solutions in Newry that not only promotes active travel but supports our communities facing new challenges and our new way of life, as we adjust to our new normal.
“Finding solutions will only be possible if we work together. Work is already underway by my Department to establish a walking and cycling advisory group with representatives from a wide range of public and voluntary sector organisations. This group will be critical in ensuring that we find the right solutions in the right places, to support our communities in the months ahead by building on these pilots and finding creative solutions to new challenges and seizing new opportunities.
“In the coming weeks I will announce plans for pop up cycle lanes and quiet streets across Northern Ireland. At a time where there are constraints on public transport, I want to make it easier for people to choose to cycle. I am particularly keen to improve links to our hospitals to help those frontline healthcare workers who are at the heart of our response to this pandemic. My Department is also looking at ways we can support communities, particularly those in disadvantaged inner city communities who do not have easy access to space for recreation and leisure and I will be making a further announcement on this soon.
“My Department will be flexible and responsive but it will not be afraid to try new approaches. Some interventions may only be needed for a short time, others may become a permanent part of our streetscapes. These solutions and others will be essential as we learn to live in the new normal, with new ways of working and travelling. In what has been a dark time for us, I want to seize the opportunity to make changes now to underpin a green recovery and improve public health now and for the future. With pressures across the board, I am looking at opportunities to transform our spaces and places. We can do things differently, repurposing our resources and refocusing our efforts. This is our chance for change, I’m committed to grasping it.”