Moira Bypass

Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:00 pm on 30 November 2021.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 7:00, 30 November 2021

In conjunction with the Business Committee, I have given leave to Mr Robbie Butler to raise the matter of a bypass for Moira. He will have up to 15 minutes.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the allocation this time. We have a very busy schedule. At the outset, I thank the Minister for attending the Adjournment debate, especially as she has a young family. There are great pressures on her and other Ministers with families. I will not take up the full 15 minutes because the case in hand is well made. I know that the SDLP Member for Lagan Valley will also state the case clearly to the Minister.

The people of Moira and its environs — people in Magheralin and Dollingstown and those who live in the rural communities — have faced this problem for quite a number of years. The Minister will be aware that I have been in communication with her office and the Department for a number of years on this issue.

I do not know whether the Minister has visited the town of Moira. I suspect that she may have. It is an absolutely beautiful, vibrant wee village. Many villages and towns throughout the country are struggling. They are not as vibrant. They struggle to fill their shops and to get enterprise and footfall in their town centres. That is not the case with Moira. It is absolutely vibrant. There is not an unused retail unit. It has a vibrant night-time economy. I am sure that Mr Catney will touch on that. Moira is attractive to businesses, and it is also a fantastic place to live. It is a very sought after area. We can see that in the growth of the local population over this past number of years.

If, perchance, you try to travel to Moira, you will be caught in the traffic jam that we are here to talk about. Sometimes, I think about the reasons for that. It could be that some people are going on a pilgrimage to see the birthplace of Pat Catney, possibly. I suspect that that is not the reason. It is because people who live in and around the area simply have to calculate every day, and add 15 to 20 minutes onto their journey time. That is a loss of time spent with family, spent productively in the workplace or spent doing the leisure activities that people might want to do.

The downside to this is that the volume of traffic in the town is at an all-time high. It is not just Monday-to-Friday, rush-hour traffic. Recent stats from the traffic survey show that Moira has a constant, seven-day, high level of traffic. The reasons for that are obvious. Moira is a bottleneck for all the traffic to and from the M1, Magheralin, Dollingstown, Waringstown and parts of Lurgan. That is in addition to all the traffic to and from Moira itself.

I put it to you, Minister, that a solution needs to be found. We cannot continue with a situation where people are waiting in slow-moving gridlock for 15 to 20 minutes to get from one side of Moira to the other. It is just a short, straight piece of road. The impact is hugely detrimental, not just for commuters but for local residents.

My view, Minister, is that Moira needs to have a bypass. Not only would that solve the traffic issues, but it would have a measurable environmental benefit by eliminating constant stop-start driving through the town. The Minister has ambitious plans for tackling environmental pressures. I appreciate that the costs would not be insignificant, and perhaps she will outline some other possible solutions that might be preferable. Having looked at it myself, I cannot see what the other answers might be.

I humbly ask the Minister to start the conversation on what is a regionally significant arterial route and dedicate some resource to finding a practical solution to solve the issue once and for all. I look forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Before I call the next Member to speak, I wish to say that constituency MLAs will have up to seven minutes to contribute and non-constituency MLAs will have five minutes. The Minister will have 10 minutes.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I thank my good friend and constituency colleague Robbie Butler for securing the Adjournment debate. It is always good to get an opportunity to speak from the Back Benches again. He and I, as well as those from across the constituency, agree on the congestion in Moira. Those familiar with that part of the world will know that, at peak periods, it is difficult to get through Moira, although that peak level, at times, extends almost throughout the entire day.

We have information on the impact of vehicle movements. There are on average over 10,000 vehicles per day moving through Moira. On some occasions, on a Friday in particular, it will go over 11,000 per day. That is taken from the Department for Infrastructure's traffic count data as of a year ago. Those 10,000 car journeys through Moira are being made by people who want to get to their property in the village, as well as by those commuting onward to the neighbouring towns of Magheralin, Dollingstown, Waringstown and, indeed, Lurgan. From speaking to the Member for Parliament for Upper Bann, Carla Lockhart, I know that she has campaigned on the issues as well. I know that my Upper Bann colleagues, Mr Buckley and Mrs Dodds, very much want me to echo on their behalf that they, too, would like to see the issue resolved.

How you do that is challenging. There have been calls for a bypass for Moira for many years, as there have been for other parts of Northern Ireland and, indeed, in our constituency. The north feeder road, which was tied into property-led developments, is one example of where conditions associated with the planning for housing led to the private sector funding that road. I am not sure that there is an opportunity to do that in Moira. Significant housing developments have undoubtedly taken place in the village and in neighbouring villages in the constituency.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

One of the things that constituents and people who are considering a move to Moira say is that they want to move there for the schools and the infrastructure but have to factor in the traffic issue and the fact there is sometimes a waiting time of 15 or 20 minutes to get in and out of the village. Does the Member agree that that can affect their decision-making?

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Moira is a popular place to live and understandably so, given the beauty of the locality, the demesne and the fact that the train station is not that far away. Of course, the Department wants to expand that, but that will generate further traffic, with people wanting to avail themselves of the development of Moira train station. We need to look at what infrastructure improvements can be provided in Moira village.

I know that the Belfast metropolitan transport plan (BMTP) says that account should be taken of the growth in those areas and that must include improvements to the infrastructure. My question to the Infrastructure Minister is this: what plans does her Department have to deal with the traffic congestion that we see in Moira? The lengthy queues impact on residents' amenity and ability to enjoy the community; on businesses; and on those trying to commute on to neighbouring towns in the Lurgan direction. We need to see progress being made. A bypass is the obvious solution. However, I recognise the financial implications of such a proposal. In the absence of that, are there other steps that can be taken to approve the A3? I say that in the wider context that Moira has a strategic location, with Moira roundabout towards Nutts Corner. I think of the Knockmore/Sprucefield link road that is going to be developed and the Sprucefield bypass that is planned. If there is going to be that development with Sprucefield and the Knockmore link, Moira is the missing part of the jigsaw in what we are doing to improve general connectivity in that area.

I am very keen to hear from the Minister about what plans the Department has to help to alleviate the traffic congestion problems that Moira faces.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will start by thanking the Member opposite for bringing this important debate to the Floor of the House, and I sincerely thank the Minister for coming to the House for the debate. I know that, as always, she will listen with care and great thought as each of us seeks to assist our constituents. She is probably sick of listening to me raising the issues in Lagan Valley of public infrastructure that has been starved of investment for decades, despite a growing population and an increasing younger and more active demographic. I know from all this engagement that Minister Mallon will work with us to help the people of Moira as much as she can, even though the financial allocation made to her Department remains constrained.

I was born in Moira, County Down, and, from an early age, I was involved in the hospitality industry. I left school at 15 and went straight into an apprenticeship in the Four Trees in Moira, there on the main street, under the tutorship of Paddy Swale, one of the best bar persons I have ever come across. A place in my heart belongs in Moira, and I was very lucky to grow up with the demesne as my playground. It was a very safe, caring neighbourhood. Many a time with my fellow MLA, I went down to the Wilson's, along with Edwin's cousins. It was just a beautiful place for us to grow up, and I can see why people want to live there. It is a privilege to stand here with the trust and the confidence of my neighbours to speak on their behalf.

Moira, like many parts of Northern Ireland, suffers from unacceptable traffic congestion, which has an impact on local residents, businesses, schools, air quality and the lifespan of existing infrastructure. Like me, colleagues from across Lagan Valley will want to find the best solution to alleviate that congestion. A bypass could be the solution, and I would like to hear from the Minister on whether the merits of that have been considered by her Department. I look forward to hearing her views. If possible, could she consider an appropriate scheme to alleviate the congestion?

The Minister will know from my frequent and many representations to her that I am keen to say that facilitating the motor vehicle is not the only way to find solutions. I may be on the older side in the House, but I like to think that I am young at heart, so I am open to new ideas and ways that the Minister might think of doing this. Earlier this year, I was delighted to welcome our SDLP Minister to Moira's train station as she announced the plan for hundreds of new park-and-ride spaces, allowing more and more people in Moira to commute and use a cleaner and more sustainable form of transport.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

Thank you. The Member will know that this is meant in the best of intentions. We also welcome the future development of Moira train station, but that, in effect, could bring more traffic into Moira. Whilst it will take cars off the road, Minister, it could also bring hundreds of cars through the village for drivers to avail themselves of the car park. That speaks to this debate as well.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member will have an additional minute.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his intervention. I am trying to portray that this cannot be done as a single issue. It has to be done collectively, and it has to be done with great planning and care. Some 400 to 500 and possibly up to 700 cars will be able to be removed off that road and will be able to park. If people are not going through the village and are not then turning left and right on their way through, I think that all of that together will be the solution, Robbie.

Yesterday, the Minister announced her public consultation on a historic and ambitious all-island strategic rail review. That programme is aimed at connecting our communities across the island through the cleaner and more sustainable travel mode of rail.

The Minister knows that I welcome her vision for rail travel and that I will take full advantage of her ambitious programme to make strong representations to enhance our connectivity across Lagan Valley, beginning by looking at existing infrastructure, like the Knockmore line, which I have campaigned for a long time to reopen. I know it inside out now.

I have a duty to my children and my grandchildren to drive forward ways in which we can tackle issues like congestion and air quality and to ensure that our places — our towns and villages — are cleaner, greener and more accessible. We can create a Moira for all. I look forward to the Minister's response and to working with her and with colleagues in the time ahead.

Thank you, Minister. I know that the earlier debate went on longer than it should and that you have a young family, but that is what is at the heart of Moira: the number of young people who want to live there and call the place where I was lucky enough to grow up "home".

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance 7:15, 30 November 2021

I speak not only as a member of the Alliance Party and its representative but as someone with an interest and perhaps something of an understanding about the matter. That understanding goes back to when I started with Translink in 2006. We were encouraged to do a sponsored walk — I agreed to this — from Portadown to Belfast. By the time I got to Belfast, I could barely walk. We went through Moira, and I could see that the congestion issues in the town were significant. A number of years subsequent to that, in 2018, I took myself for a marathon run from Portadown to Belfast. I did that in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Going through the town, I saw that the traffic situation was just the same, if not worse. A few weeks ago, I was in the town and ran on to the towpath at Broad Water to Aghalee. I came back to the town for a cup of coffee and could see the issues.

As other Members have outlined, this is not purely about a bypass, which is one of the things being advocated, but about safe crossings for pedestrians on the main thoroughfare through the town. That is the key issue that needs to be considered. Throughout all my visits to Moira, there has been an issue with being able to safely cross the road with a significant volume of traffic, including HGVs, trying to make its way through the town. That needs to be considered.

The improvement of public transport, which must be the first response to any issues with traffic congestion, must also be considered. The other issue relates to a park-and-ride. It is important that that is provided, but we should also consider the knock-on impact and ensure safe access and ingress to that park-and-ride, particularly at peak times when people are accessing or going through it. This is an important issue. For me, the first concern is always safety, including safe crossings on the road. It is important that that issue is considered.

I do not want to delay the House or the Minister for too long. I thank the Member for bringing the debate to the Chamber.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Mr Poots, I apologise for not calling you, as a constituency MLA, before Andrew Muir. At least he got only five minutes to speak.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

No worries, Mr Speaker. Everybody forgets about me, you know.


Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I hardly think that is a problem.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Thank you for calling me, in any event. I thank Robbie for bringing the debate to the House.

It is a long time since my grandfather took his family to church in Moira on a pony and trap. My mother walked nearly 3 miles to the train station to get down to Belfast to work in the Civil Service. Moira has grown rapidly as a village since then, particularly over recent years. Unfortunately, planning has not gone into it in the way that it should. Road development has not taken place to match the housing development that took place in the area and in the other villages further up towards Lurgan, including Magheralin, Dollingstown and Waringstown, which all access the motorway through the village of Moira.

Mr Catney is absolutely right when he says that, historically, Lagan Valley has not done particularly well out of Roads Service or the Department for Infrastructure. The north Lisburn feeder road was provided by the private sector. A further £7 million of investment happened at Sprucefield when the new links were made to the motorway there: again, that was provided by the private sector.

Some £1 million was spent on putting lights at the Saintfield roundabout. Mr Salmon was heavily involved in that. Work was done to the Largymore link road. Again, that was provided by the private sector. The new Knockmore/Sprucefield link road, which will make a transformational difference to the city of Lisburn, is also being provided by the private sector. Given that the Department for Infrastructure has got away so lightly in the Lagan Valley constituency, it would be entirely reasonable for it to provide investment there, for Moira and the communities that access the motorway through the village of Moira.

Moira is gridlocked, particularly in the morning and evening peak traffic. If you are trying to get out of Meeting Street to get on to the main road, it is an absolute disaster. Many older people live in Moira. They have to cross the main road — a road that 10,000 cars travel — to go to the doctor and the chemist and to get essential items. We need to relieve the pressure on Moira village.

We have talked about the train station and recognised the desire to create more car parking. I support that. I would also like to see better walking access to the train station so that people can safely walk there through a well-lit area. It is critical that the Department for Infrastructure take that issue on board. We all recognise, and everybody knows, that, for traffic, Moira is a disaster zone, particularly in the evenings when the traffic backs up on to the motorway. It is dangerous for traffic to be queued back on to the motorway.

We hope for good news tonight, given the lobbying of the Minister that Mr Catney has already done. He has her well softened up. I hope that we will get positive news from the Minister, so I will not detain the House further.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for Lagan Valley Mr Butler for instigating the debate on a bypass for Moira. I have listened with interest to the comments and issues raised by Members. I have had the privilege of being in the village, and it is absolutely beautiful. There are, undoubtedly, traffic congestion problems at peak times, owing to the high volume of vehicles passing along the A3. I fully acknowledge the frustration of commuters and those in the Moira community who are impacted by that.

It is important to recognise, however, that, as well as exploring engineering solutions to the congestion in many towns across Northern Ireland, we need to work to reduce dependency on the private car for the vast majority of trips. I recognise that that presents additional challenges to those who live in our rural communities. While bypasses can improve the urban environment of our town centres and journey-time reliability on the road network, we need to focus on greater use of public transport and investment in public transport and active travel to enable more of us to make our journeys by sustainable means.

That is why, in February of this year, as Members have mentioned, I was delighted to announce a plan for over 400 new park-and-ride spaces close to Moira train station that will provide cleaner, greener, sustainable transport for locals. I am aware of requests for better street lighting along Station Road. While the requests do not meet current policy, we are, within the blue-green fund, doing what we can on the issue. I am conscious that there is a case to be made. I recognise, however, the point that Mr Butler made. The park-and-ride facility is a positive move forward, but, in truth, it is only a part of the solution, because there will still be a requirement for traffic to travel through the village to get to the train station.

Mr Givan asked what my Department is doing to address the issues. In recent years, the Department has taken steps to mitigate the effects of through traffic on the village and improve road safety. We will continue to monitor the situation and make changes, should that be shown to help ease congestion, for example through the signal timings of the Main Street/Meeting Street junction. The road layout, particularly in the centre of the village, limits what can be done to reduce congestion levels.

Eastern division has also received requests to signalise the M1 westbound off slip at its junction with the Moira roundabout. However, due to the existing queuing from the village, providing traffic signals could result in traffic with a green signal having limited scope to progress due to congestion downstream. That could lead to further frustration among drivers. However, I assure the representatives of Lagan Valley that that location will continue to be monitored.

If that is the case in looking to see what measures we can introduce and we recognise that that is not the solution, we need to look for other solutions. Members may be aware that, in June this year, I published 'Planning for the Future of Transport', which sets out the central role that transport plans will play in supporting the improved planning, management and development of the transport network here over the next 10 to 15 years. The Department has initiated work on a new suite of transport plans, setting out new transport infrastructure proposals for delivery until 2035. That includes the Belfast metropolitan transport plan, which will address future plans for roads, public transport and active travel in the five councils of the Belfast metropolitan area, including Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. The plan will include detailed scheme testing, and a Moira bypass and other potential public transport solutions will be tested as part of that process. The BMTP will be developed alongside the council's local development plans, reflecting its growth, ambitions and policy objectives, and it is expected that it will be published towards the end of 2023. My officials will work closely alongside the council as that work progresses. That will provide for a holistic consideration of which transport solutions can best deliver our desired outcomes, including reduced carbon emissions and the creation of high-quality urban spaces that benefit communities.

I assure the representatives of Lagan Valley and those of Upper Bann, who have also made several representations on the matter, that I will look closely at all options to improve our transport networks in order to increase their resilience, sustainability and benefit to communities. As Members will be aware, my Department has suffered budgetary constraints, and I have inherited significant financial challenges. However, working with all parties across the Assembly and the Executive, I am committed to exploring what is possible to improve community connectivity and enhance lives. I will give careful consideration to a Moira bypass as we complete the work on our transport plans in conjunction with the councils.

I thank Members for raising this important issue and for the nature of the debate. I recognise that this has been a long-standing problem, and I recognise the frustration among the local community, commuters and elected representatives. I look forward to working with them and their colleagues on the council as we develop the strategic transport plans.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member who secured the Adjournment debate, the Minister for her attendance and all colleagues who contributed in the debate.

Adjourned at 7.28 pm.