BANGOR could be in line for low traffic zones, designed to help people living in the centre of the new city while boosting pedestrian access.
But the move only comes after a push to derail the scheme was defeated – a push that saw several Ards councillors try to vote it down, while one senior council member from that area accused Bangor’s representatives of ‘losing the run of themselves’ since the town was designated a city. Said the leader of Ards and North Down Council’s DUP faction, Newtownards alderman Stephen McIlveen: “Unless you’re going to be investing in large scale apartment blocks in Bangor, it’s going to be very hard to envisage how a low traffic town centre – city centre, if you want to call it that – can be sustainable.”
The low traffic neighbourhoods idea came up at the council’s Corporate Services Committee last Tuesday night, with alderman Scott Wilson and mayor Karen Douglas jointly suggesting that officials should check into the technicalities of setting them up while also running preliminary consultations about the idea among central Bangor residents and businesses. The idea caused uproar among Ards area councillors, some of whom had been determined to block Bangor from applying for city status in the first place while arguing that any bid to create a seaside city would inevitably fail.
They were proved wrong when Queen Elizabeth ruled that Bangor should become one of eight new cities created to mark her Platinum Jubilee in May. But at least one prominent opponent of Bangor’s Royal bid went on the attack again when the idea of giving the new city some low traffic neighbourhoods was put forward last week.
Low traffic neighbourhoods work by using street furniture to filter vehicles out of a handful of linked residential roads, cutting back ‘rat-runs’ that see drivers barreling down side streets in attempts to find rush-hour shortcuts. Emergency vehicles can still be permitted down low traffic streets, while private residents and business owners have access through alternative routes. Although initially disruptive as the new layouts are brought in, the schemes have proved to be very successful in a number of busy European cities and suburbs.
Alderman Wilson said the schemes have created networks of quiet streets where it’s safe for kids to play outside and neighbours to catch up, while also reducing air pollution and boosting walking and cycling. “There are already plans afoot for greater pedestrianisation of the city centre,” the Alliance man added, “but there needs to be a shift in habits and attitudes. “It’s not unusual for people to expect to be able to drive to a shop, park outside it, visit the shop and then drive home. While it might be convenient, it doesn’t make for a successful city centre. “We want as many people as possible enjoying the city centre, taking in everything it has to offer, and enjoying shops and hospitality as part of the overall experience, not just driving to one place then home. “If done right, low traffic neighbourhoods can play an important role in regeneration.” He also suggested that early and direct consultation with residents and business, one going beyond a simple box-ticking exercise, could ‘help ignite debate, get the conversation going and feed into the vision that this council has for the city centre’. And the Mayor argued that the move would help businesses by ensuring more people are walking on central streets, while citing studies that showed air and noise pollution had been heavily reduced by low traffic neighbourhoods in central London.
Bangor Central councillor Ray McKimm felt that a low traffic neighbourhood would be a progressive move, albeit one he admitted would be complex and would need to be done in partnership with the people of the city as well as public transport authorities. “Goodness me, why don’t we just get the ball rolling?” he asked. “Ask for a report, ask for more information, and if our officers come back with detail we’re going to see some really innovative ideas and programmes that don’t just work in Berlin and London, but in the suburbs of Paris and smaller towns in Italy. I’ve seen them happen, they’re really interesting. “If marketed and approached the right way in the wider context, I do believe that the community would respond positively to this. The world is changing and this is leading us in the right direction.”
The committee voted to investigate setting up low traffic neighbourhoods in Bangor by nine votes in favour to six against. Only two of the Ards councillors on the committee backed the idea.