By Jane Corscadden and Una Murphy
BELFAST councillors and voluntary groups have welcomed research into permanently pedestrianising more parts of the city centre.
The council’s pop-up play parks set up following the Primark fire in the historic Bank Buildings last year were a big hit with the public. Now councillors want to find out if more permanent city centre space for pedestrians is feasible.
Thousands of people signed a petition calling on Belfast City Council and other agencies to reconsider when the city centre temporary playparks were removed in May.
Northern Ireland Greenways, a voluntary project, started a petition on social media.
Jonathan Hobbs, the campaigner who founded Northern Ireland Greenways said: “Earlier this year more than 3,500 people signed a petition to make Belfast’s temporary pedestrian core permanent. Streets filled with family life and relaxed shoppers, coupled with the absence of traffic fumes and noise was the one good news story to emerge from the awful Bank Buildings fire.
“It was a mistake to ‘re-open’ the streets to vehicles in May, but it’s a welcome next step for Belfast City Council to look at options for the future and how other cities are moving to a people-centred approach to city centre development.”
SDLP Councillor Dónal Lyons, former chair of the Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee, has called for the pedestrianisation of the Castle Place and Donegall Place area, where businesses were badly affected by the Primark fire. A recommendation by the City Growth and Regeneration Committee was ratified at the full council meeting in July.
“I’m glad the Council supported my motion to look at ways of pedestrianising Donegall and Castle Places. There’s a growing awareness of how people use public spaces in different ways and the need for a better balance between pedestrians, cyclists and cars. Pedestrianising Donegall Place and Castle Place would bring together the walkable areas which are already thriving in the city centre and open up public spaces for new and different uses,” Cllr Lyons said.
“The Council rightly has identified as a priority making the city a healthier, and more family friendly place to live. Opening up these streets seems to be an obvious, useful and achievable starting point.”
Councillor Brian Smyth, the Green Party’s representative for Lisnasharragh in east Belfast, said: “The era of the car being king has to end, we must redesign our cities, deal with the impact of climate breakdown, and put the well-being of our citizens first.”
Permanently pedestrianising more of the city centre is a way of improving air quality and increasing footfall in the city centre, he said.
Green Party campaigners shut down parts of Dublin City Centre in July. They occupied South William Street in the city to protest such a narrow street not being pedestrianised. Cllr Smyth said that the actions of campaigners in Dublin: “keep the conversation alive and in the public consciousness”.
More details of the Belfast City Council pedestrianisation proposals here https://minutes3.belfastcity.gov.uk/documents/s77836/Castle%20Place%20and%20Pedestrianisation.pdf