Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has been in post since May 2016. In that time you may not have had the chance to gauge how progressive a Transport Minister he plans to be.
You might have been impressed by his predecessors Danny Kennedy and Michelle McIlveen’s committment to active travel. You might have recently seen that fantastic greenways announcement, but maybe you’re waiting to see what effect the Belfast Telegraph’s bus lane fetish has on policy formation.
If you have had any doubts about where Belfast is headed in terms of transport planning, this might help – a response during Infrastructure Questions on Monday 28th November 2016:
“I would not have stood in the House recently and made the decision to proceed with the York Street Interchange if I did not accept the arguments that it is a strategic piece of infrastructure that not just the city of Belfast but the economy as a whole requires.
When looking at the economy .. we continue to talk in the House and on the public airwaves about moving cars. We need to talk about moving people.
Moving people in and out of Belfast city is good for business; moving cars is not.
What are we to do after York Street? Are we to bulldoze half of Great Victoria Street because we need two extra lanes in Great Victoria Street? Are we to demolish Belfast City Hall because we need a bigger roundabout at Belfast City Hall?
We need to talk about moving people, not cars, in and out of Belfast.”
Impressed by @ChrisHazzardSF's grasp of 21st C urbanism: 'We need to talk about moving people in Belfast & stop talking about moving cars'.
— Fearghal Murray (@Fearghal_Murray) November 29, 2016
Meanwhile, Sammy Douglas MLA kicked off a discussion around greenways, where the thorny issue of the excellent Connswater Greenway highlighting the need for investment in the adjoining Comber Greenway raised more interesting news:
“My Department will shortly undertake a public consultation on the Belfast Bicycle Network, which includes the Comber Greenway. The consultation will seek views on a number of improvements to the greenway, including lighting part of the route.
Following consultation on the network, consideration will be given to whether lighting is appropriate on parts of the route, taking into account environmental concerns and the needs of the adjacent properties and neighbours.”
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) September 28, 2014
Looking to the wider greenway network development (queston by Jenny Palmer MLA) it turns out the Minister is a big fan of the Lagan Towpath:
“I am a regular user of the Lagan Towpath in particular. It has great heritage and also great potential for the future. You only have to go on to it at the weekend to see that it is absolutely buzzing. It is like a high street in the town.
It is great to see. The long-term vision of the Lagan linking into the restoration of the Ulster Canal and even further is a project that is worth good attention in the years ahead.
I only wish that I had the money to start work tomorrow.”
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) January 13, 2013
What potential does the greenway network announcement have beyond active travel, looking specifically at the tourism sector? (question by Nichola Mallon MLA)
“I was delighted and privileged to launch the greenway plan just outside Dundrum on the old Belfast and County Down Railway line, which used to bring hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists from Belfast to north and south Down, including to Newcastle, my part of the world. There is no reason why we cannot extend out for active travel and cycling.
When you talk to anyone involved in the tourism industry, they tell you that they want active tourism or activities that take people out of the city to destinations such as Newcastle. This can definitely be part of that. Some of the schemes for the Glens and another one to link Carlingford lough and Lough Neagh are very exciting. There are some great schemes for us to be excited about over the next five to 10 years.”
— Dept Infrastructure (@deptinfra) November 9, 2016
Urban greenway development may have seen subsumed within in the mostly rural network announcement, but it’s very much on the agenda: (question by Paula Bradshaw MLA)
“The [Carryduff Greenway] scheme first came on to my horizon when the Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, talked about it. As someone who knows the lay of the land in that part of the world, I think that it would be a fantastic asset.
It could also play a vital role in alleviating congestion from the city, considering the success of the Cairnshill park-and-ride facility. A greenway there from Carryduff through Belvoir Forest would be a great asset.
I encourage the council to do all that it can during the detailed design. Like other schemes that I have mentioned, it could be a huge asset.”
— ThePaulHogarthCo (@PaulHogarthCo) October 5, 2016
Let’s just take a look at what the Minister is outlining here:
- rural greenways as signature tourism projects to drive our economy
- suburban greenways to alleviate congestion by dovetailing with public transport
- enhancing urban greenways to help people choose the bicycle year-round
- designing urban centres around the needs of people, not cars
This is not a result of heavy lobbying, pushing from the outside – this is coming unprompted from the new Minister.
Is Shane Ross taking in these terms? Is Chris Grayling? I’m genuinely interested to benchmark this against other administrations in these islands because it appears our Minister really gets it.