The Department for Infrastructure is currently working on a draft for the Eastern Transport Plan 2035, and Ards and North Down is part of that plan. We can submit our views on the draft until October 30. Please respond to the Public Consultation.
Having read through the documentation I believe the draft is a considered and balanced view of what needs to be done in Northern Ireland to make our transportation infrastructure fit for purpose for the remainder of this century.
However, my main concern is that much of what needs to be done to meet the challenges of a lack of Active Travel here and of ambitious Climate Change goals is fundamentally linked to funding that Northern Ireland does not have. Consider the to-do list outlined in the draft:
The plan's vision is very enticing and full of buzz words:
The plan comprises seven main objectives:
Taking the objectives in order, I would make the following observations:
Reducing travel distances is a great idea. Unfortunately the planning rules are not yet aligned with this. There is no stipulation for new developments to set aside space for cycle paths (ie no “integrated planning”), currently it is left to developers to do this voluntarily. Anyone who has been to the massive new High Trees development in Donaghadee will have noticed that the car is still king and utility cyclists get passed by cars exceeding the 30mph speed limit on the Newtownards Road.
Reducing transportation-related carbon emissions can be achieved by getting people out of cars onto bikes. Bangor commuters working in Belfast could ditch their car if Translink allowed bikes on trains before 9:30am (see last week’s blog). Translink needs to wake up and embrace multi-modal Activce Travel instea of burying its head in the sand. In addition, bike buses taking children to school would reduce the morning and afternoon rush hour traffic significantly.
The above would also tally nicely with the aim of promoting healthy Active Travel.
“Demand Management” is coming, whether we like it or not. This will encompass road pricing or parking restrictions or both. Walking or cycling avoid both!
The only truly “sustainable vehicle” is a bicycle. A bike runs on muscle power. EVs rely on batteries made of rare earths to move - batteries that cannot be recycle and therefore are anathema to sustainability.
That particular point is way too “fluffy” for my taste. The road network here is in bad shape. The rail network is marginally better, although service frequency could be improved to make it more attractive to get people out of their cars.
Currently access to airports and ports is ok by road but trying to get there by public transport can be tricky, especially when it comes to catching an early flight from BFS or DUB. It is commendable that the ETP 2035 tries to address those shortcomings.
The success of this plan hinges to two major factors:
Money: this will be expensive. Northern Ireland’s public finances are in really bad shape. The DfI needs to lay out clearly how this plan will be financed.
Accountability: without this, the plan will fail. Stormont and the DfI must put in place not only contractually binding schedules with all suppliers (and other govenrment departments) involved in building the plan's new infrastructure but also an independent oversight committee that monitors DfI and other government departments' performance on the delivery of each stage. Northern Ireland government departments do not have a good track record of delivering these types of plans on schedule and on budget. Public scrutiny is as critical here as the meeting of KPIs by the DfI. Do DfI employees even have KPIs against which they are evaluated? For the benefit of any DfI employee reading this, a KPI is a Key Performance Indicator.
With a bit of fine-tuning, appropriate funding and oversight this plan could hugely improve the quality of life in Northern Ireland. Well done, DfI for making an excellent start. Make sure you keep on top of everything. The last time something was labelled "sustainable" it cost the NI tax payer half a billion pounds: RHI, anyone?
Thank you if you made it this far. Don’t forget to respond to the consultation