Roads Service Grilled At Council Meeting

Newry Mourne and Down District Council councillors have been updated on programmed works on the road network for the area by the Department for Infrastructure.

Councillors from across the district, however, found the report useful, but nevertheless expressed their concerns and turned up the heat under Simon Richardson, Divisional Roads Manager.

Speaking as he addressed council members this evening at the Special Meeting, Mr Richardson said:  “In the first six months of this financial year the Department has made good progress on our resurfacing programme, having already completed a number of schemes across the district, including Concession Road, Culloville; Upper Dromore Road, Burren; Ardglass Road, Downpatrick; and Rooney Road, Kilkeel.

“During the rest of the financial year we will complete the remaining schemes on our resurfacing programme, including schemes at Seaview, Warrenpoint; Dundalk Street, Newtownhamilton; and Fathom Line Newry.

“We have also made excellent progress completing a number of Road Recovery Fund schemes across the district. This fund, of £15million across the four Roads Divisions, was established to address sections of road that would otherwise not have received treatment, and targets relatively short lengths that have a number of potholes or other surface defects.  We will continue with this work during the remaining months of the year.  These projects will realise significant benefits for both the local community and commuters in Newry, Mourne and Down.”

Mr Richardson continued: “On 3 October the Department announced the preferred route of the Newry Southern Relief Road, which connects the A2 Warrenpoint Road to the A1 Belfast/Dublin Road. The proposed preferred route connects to the A2 along the frontage of Greenback Industrial Estate, crosses the Newry River and Canal just to the south of Drumalane Quarry and then heads in a westerly direction joining the A1 at the Ellisholding Junction.

“The next stage of the project will be to develop the design of the road and prepare the draft statutory Orders and the Environmental Impact Assessment for public consultation. We will be undertaking a series of local exhibitions and information events to keep the public up to date on developments and we will be continuing our face to face meetings with affected land owners.

”The Ballynahinch Bypass (A24), a major strategic roads project, will progress to the procurement and subsequent construction stages depending on a satisfactory business case, clearing the statutory procedures and getting the funding in place.” He also updated on the Newry Southern Relief Road, the A7 Rowallene to Doran’s Rock project, and the Downpatrick Eastern Distributor.

Following the report by Mr Richardson, councillors proceeded with a quite critical view of how Roads Service was meeting the needs of the constituents across the area.

First up was Cllr Billy Walker (DUP) who thanked Mr Richardosn for the projects completed to date and the courtesy of his staff. But, Cllr Walker then said: “But I am concerned about the state of our roads in the Rowallene area. Gullies are blocked and grass and weeds are growing up to two feet high. This is really totally unacceptable. I see the Council, Housing Executive and Roads Service all sometimes circling round the issues of grass maintenance. There needs to be a joined up agency approach here to get on top of this issue instead of councillors and residents being passed off from one body to the other. From the Langley Road in Ballynahinch to High Street in Killyleagh, the poor roads situation is getting out of control.”

Cllr Micky Ruane (Sinn Féin): “When people in my area in Newry contact Roads Service nothing seems to happen. There is a lot of frustration at times and some anger at the start of the summer.  Last May we saw the Road Recovery Fund kick in and had some hopes that this would make a difference. It is pathetic. I see no improvement. Something needs to be done.” Mr Richarson said he was disappointed at Cllrs Ruane’s position and recognised his frustration and said that they needed to sit down and discuss this issue and work through it. He explained that the George Street/Burren works would be completed by November.

Cllr Terry Hearty (Sinn Féin): “The issue of the Creamery Road in my area was raised in 2016 and is not resolved. It is a fatal accident waiting to happen. The problem we as councillors ga=face is that our constituents come to us and we report the issues – then nothing happens. And they don’t come back and complain again. You can tell by their body language they are uncomfortable about it. There needs to be a better way of doing things. If drains and gullies are not properly cleaned they seize up and need dug out. This is a huge waste to Roads Services. Drains are being destroyed by penny pinching.”

Cllr Cadogan Enright (Independent): “Every single project in Downpatrick is being abandoned eg the road past the police station linking to St Patrick’s Avenue and a one way system. And at Collins’ Corner, the left had turn on the Killough Road has been removed. Also, we see situations such as around the Mound of Down where five different agencies are responsible for cutting grass. I think there is something wrong systematically that there is so much waste and duplication. Even the parking and traffic issues in Strangford are difficult, a small rural town. The bus has difficulty parking near the ferry some days. On Tuesday and Saturday this week the town was blocked due to traffic jamming up. The ferry service says that traffic is not its responsibility.” However, Mr Richardson said that Roads Service has made a number of presentation on the Downpatrick Masterplan and that Edward Street could have a one way trafic system. He noted that the link road proposed did not stack up on its own as a solution to Downpatrick’s traffic problem’s.

Cllr Henry Reilly (Independent): “It would be good if we got support through the City Deal for the Southern Relief Road which would open up access to the Mournes.”

Cllr Willie Clarke (Sinn Féin): “I would support the idea of collaboration of different agencies. Some of this could be worked through  the Community Planning process. There needs to be more cooperation between different bodies. For example, a mechanical sweeper is not effective if the road is full of parked cars… they can’t get in to the gutters to clean them.”

Cllr Declan McAteer (SDLP): “I have two sheets of issues which I brought to the Spring meeting from the winter meeting. How do you get staff to deal with these matters? They are treating us with total and utter contempt… a new format for working is needed. It is just not working. Staff have taken time to record these issues and we still have not heard five months later. This is very poor feedback.”

Cllr Michael Carr (SDLP): “We are looking regime that has become reactive from being proactive. Our area is not receiving the attention it deserves. For example, the Roads Recovery Fund supported 28 projects for short road surfacing works in East Down out of a total of 37 with 6 of these in Armagh. We need a meeting to discuss the key Warrenpoint issues we are faced with.”

Cllr Jarleth Tinnelly (Independent): “As councillors, we are caught in a buffer zone, between disgruntled residents and the Roads Service. We certainly need to improve the way that councillors are communicated with. They should not be ignored.”

Cllr Roisin Mulgrew (Sinn Féin:) “I am happy with the service I have had from Roads Service staff. However, my concern is around issues of traffic speed and calming. Are there set criteria to determine standards to determine if traffic calming is necessary? Police Traffic management needs to work with Roads Service  more.”

Cllr Michael Savage (SDLP): “I would like to know what impact the absence of Stormont is having on Roads Service’s ability to deliver its functions effectively? There are roads in Newry which have very bad bumps and I understand it will take 18 months for a repair. I think this is about managing expectations. Budgets have been cut year on year. This has caused damage to our environment. We need to understand where and how much the shortfall in the budget is and how much of a hill we have to climb.” Mr Richardson explained, that Roads Service requires £140 to operate effectively, but this past year it has been working on a budget of £75million for four Roads Services districts.”

Cllr Dermot Curran (SDLP): “I would like to thank Mr Richardson for the excellent road surfacing work recently completed on the Downpatrick Road. The road was closed during a prestigious UK-wide golf tournament however Roads Service did put up adequate signage for visitors and this helped to reduce some of the impact of the road closure.” Mr Richardson explained his section just did not know this event was one when the work was scheduled.

The meeting ended with Cllr Pete Byrne (SDLP) raising the question about how Road Service can adopt a private road in his area. Mr Richardson explained that each road is different and he would send an engineer out to meet with Cllr Byrne to discuss it further.

The effects of having no devolved government in Northern Ireland such as budgeting issues in departments and no ministerial direction and accountability were apparent at the meeting with the frustration quite palpable. All government departments are affected by this difficult political reality. It was a tough meeting for the Roads Services officials given the previous good relations between the councillors and officials at previous meetings.

The Special Meeting lasted 2 hours 20 minutes.