Yesterday, between 5.45pm and 7.45pm, a public meeting took place at the Reception Hall of the Belfast City Hall to discuss the presented Linen Quarter Consultation document produced by Plan IE.
About 20 people were present, 4-5 of them belonged to either Belfast City Council or Plan IE. As this is the first time I went to a public meeting the number of people surprised me on the negative.
This is the first public meeting I attended and never really know what it would be like, so this section just shows that it was a regular meeting and how it evolved.
5.45pm – Belfast City Council representative did an initial presentation of the project and what was already discussed in other previous meetings with other interested parties (e.g. disabled people).
5.50pm-6.30pm – Plan IE representative presented the ideas put on the consultation document and explained their point of views for certain decisions in the document.
6.30pm-7.45pm – General Discussion.
Starting by the beginning, there were some clarifications done right from the bat.
- Consultation document was commissioned by Belfast City Council.
- Consultation document is still a work in progress and much of what was presented is changeable, given proper reasoning and justification.
- The consultation document focuses on public realm and what can be achieved within it to revitalize the area.
- The road layout, structure and orientation are responsibilities of Transport NI. This means that Belfast City Council are aiming to propose improvements to enable social and economic growth to the quarter, but ultimately Transport NI has a saying over any change.
The points that raised bigger discussion were parking and the lack of dwell in the quarter. These two issues are inter-connected as if on-street parking lowers the potential to increase dwelling in the are increases largely.
Parking (On Street)
This was the most discussed theme yesterday evening and with good reason. A total of more than 350 on street parking spaces will remove interest in dwelling in the area. There were some points in favour of on street parking for disabled people – apparently there are currently 50 to 60 people with blue badges parking in the quarter – and to serve venues like the Ulster Hall.
Lack of Dwell
People dwelling in the quarter is the one of the primer objectives to achieve with the changes. Suggestions about improving sense of access roads, instead of cut-through roads would improve it. Other suggestion included focus on some key areas within the quarter to focus the improvement on night life and day life.
The shared space presented was understood as a problem, but apparently this had already been highlighted in previous meeting with other interested parties, namely the disabled people. As such, very little time was invested in discussing this, even if shared space in itself causes problem to the multitude of more vulnerable road users, not only disabled.
The quality of the pavement was briefly spoken about; mostly to mention caution on which kind of pavement should be laid down. Cobbles, as presented in Blackstaff Sq, could cause difficulties for people with arthritis or just people with heels.
This is a major point of discussion and currently there are lots of people with different needs that are already using and promoting the use of the quarter and activities within it. There was a report of an association (that shamefully I wasn’t capable of understanding the name) that is encouraging families (with kids) to move to the quarter and take the opportunity of the facilities like the Ulster Hall or the Movie House.
It was noted that safe and convenient roads for pedestrians would keep the growing of such people to move to the quarter to enjoy such activities.
Rat running is an effect of the Linen Quarter road layout that encourages car drivers to storm pass the inner quarter with the inconvenience and peril to lie with pedestrians and cyclist.
Mention was made that the only road within the quarter that needs two way orientation is Bedford St, and that the remaining should be changed to access roads to create a safer environment.
The 2 hours meeting to discuss such an array of subjects that should greatly impact a quarter is clearly a short amount of time. I would suggest for this to be taken into account and do at least two public meetings of 2 hour with specific agenda on each of them.
There was brilliant suggestions and stories spoken that helped greatly to open my horizons about a number of new options that would need to be taken into account – needs for disabled people, families and cyclist were mentioned.
It is disappointing to understand that what drives more people away from the quarter is not in the city council’s hands and within Transport NI and that they were not directly involved from the beginning in this project, which might be because this consultation was initially to acknowledge what is possible to achieve with the public realm and only after ambition to improve the road network – by reaching Transport NI.
From what I could sense, this project is in an embryonic process on which the consultation is open until the 11th of March and, after, it will be re-evaluated with all the feedback gathered. It would be good if there is a clear and public process after this as nothing was indicated or published.
Finally, people seem to be trying to achieve the same – to transform an historical quarter into a place that is enjoyable to be in. Hopefully, this is achieved the best possible way.