Members will be aware of the influx of traffic that shoppers from the South have caused in recent months. The effect of that extra traffic is felt most strongly in Newry, while the major junctions of Gaol Square, Henry Street and the Wellington Road throughpass in Enniskillen have been experiencing increased traffic congestion.
However, there has been no significant effect on traffic volumes in Derry, over and above that normally experienced, and it is not envisaged that that will change. My Department does not have precise details of the increase in traffic volumes owing to the influx of shoppers from the South, but an estimated rise of 30% to 40% in Newry’s traffic volumes since December appears reasonable. Although it is expected that shoppers from the South will continue to travel to the North in search of savings, the economic climate will dictate the strength and duration of their interest.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Where improvements can be made to alleviate town-centre traffic difficulties, will the Minister state that his Department will consider them, even if only as a temporary measure — by direction signage or whatever — in order to take pressure away from town centres?
I agree absolutely with the Member. In a sense, it is a good problem to have. Being a border dweller, I am aware of times when traffic volumes moved in the other direction in search of bargains. The current favourable rates mean that traffic volumes are increasing in towns on the Northern side of the border.
I am happy to work with people to provide, as the Member suggests, temporary solutions where they are required. In the run-up to the Christmas shopping period in Newry, I sat down with traders and with representatives from the council, PSNI, Roads Service and Housing Executive — it had property that was subsequently used as a temporary car park — and we were able to come up with a range of measures. Although those measures did not completely do away with the traffic issues, they alleviated them in some small regard. For example, providing better signage at the Newry bypass made people aware that there was more than one entrance to the town, and meant that not everyone tried to use the Dublin Road.
Where that is the case in other towns, a multi-agency approach to even temporary measures is advisable, because pieces of land that are awaiting development or that will lie unused for a couple can often be used as makeshift car parks. It just so happens that I represent the Newry area, so I was able to meet people to discuss the issues, but a local-level approach to get together Roads Service, the Housing Executive, the council, PSNI and traders to consider solutions can be very effective in the short term.
As someone who travels past it every day, I can assure the Member that work is progressing quite well. The completion date is the end of next year — winter 2010. I am not sure whether any sections of the road will be opened before then. I have asked that question of Roads Service, and I am waiting for an answer. If there is a further interim update, I will provide it to the Member.
However, work is progressing well. No significant delays have been experienced, and the anticipated completion date remains the winter of next year.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Is the Minister aware that Amey Lagan Ferrovial intends to close, from 7.00 pm on Friday 20 March until 6.00 am on Monday 23 March, the Forkhill Road at the Cloghogue roundabout during the construction of the new dual carriageway? During that weekend, confirmation will be taking place in the local church. Will the Minister assure the House that, whatever closure is necessary, the local community’s views will be taken into account, and that a time of least inconvenience will be chosen?
I further ask the Minister to ensure that traffic is managed in such a way as to avoid long tailbacks, such as we had at Christmas, from Newry’s Dublin Road to the part of the new motorway that is open.
Will the Minister work with the Department for Social Development (DSD) to ameliorate the impact of the A1 dual carriageway on neighbourhood-renewal areas bordering the new road? Go raibh míle maith agat. [Interruption.]
I assure the Members to my left that I am more than able to do this job.
I am aware of the proposed closure of Forkhill Road at the Cloghogue roundabout. No road closure occurs without some inconvenience, but the Member is quite right: there should be liaison and discussions with the local community to try to minimise that inconvenience as best we can.
From discussions that I have had with the chairperson of the local liaison group — who co-ordinates meetings among the council, Roads Service, the contractor and the local community — I am aware that an evening is planned to provide information to the local community and to take suggestions. Where road closures are planned, every effort should be made to ensure that the inevitable inconvenience will be minimised. If traffic-management issues arise from closures, they should be managed as sensibly as possible in order to alleviate any possible traffic congestion.