A £60m investment to bring natural gas to Downpatrick is impacting on tenants at the Down Business Park, according to a local councillor.
Phoenix Gas is extending its expansive network to towns across East Down as part of a the major investment with the first supply of natural gas expected to be available next year.
Phoenix is expanding its network to include Downpatrick, Newcastle, Castlewellan, Crossgar, Dundrum, Drumaness, Saintfield and Spa and estimates the expansion will result in natural gas being available to an additional 25,000 homes and businesses.
The company is currently laying a new mains pipe at the Belfast Road outside Downpatrick and in the heart of Annacloy village as part of the investment plan that will see 260km of pipeline laid across the district.
While the work is progressing well, there is concern about the disruption the work is causing close to the Down Business Park where councillor Patrick Brown said takings in a number of companies are reported to be down, including at a local cafe.
While fully supportive of the investment to bring natural gas to the district to improve energy choice for consumers, he is concerned at the impact it is having on some businesses.
Councillor Brown plans to contact Phoenix to ask if the company will carry out its pipe-laying work at night and over the weekend in a bid to minimise disruption. In addition, he is to contact the Department of Infrastructure to see if businesses which have lost trade as a result of the Phoenix investment are entitled to compensation.
“I have no issue with the Phoenix investment which is welcome in the area,” he explained. “It is good that mains gas will soon be available for consumers, providing them with increased energy choice. However, I am concerned about the impact the work is having on tenants at the Down Business Centre.”
Councillor Brown said those based at the business park rely on passing trade which is being affected by the traffic tailbacks at the Belfast Road where temporary traffic lights are in operation. He explained the tailbacks effectively close off the entrance to the business park at times.
“Businesses depend on easy access to the complex and one of the reasons this facility was built in the first place was to provide exactly that.”
He has welcomed plans to erect ‘business as usual’ signs at the Belfast Road junction to make people aware that firms in the park remain open for business.
Mr Brown plans to ask Phoenix if there is anything that can be done to speed up the work, suggesting this would be a positive step as far as those in the business park are concerned.
A spokeswoman for Phoenix Gas said the company is currently operating a traffic light system to manage traffic flow around the works site at the Belfast Road which is located between the junction of Finnebrogue Road and Down Business Park. She said access to the park remains open at all times.
“Phoenix Natural Gas is in the process of arranging for additional ‘businesses open as usual’ signage to be clearly placed in front of the entrance to business park, visible to traffic travelling in both directions. Construction works on Belfast Road are currently on schedule and due to complete by Sunday, April 16, subject to ground conditions,” she explained.
“As Phoenix continues to develop the network in Co Down, we appreciate residents, communities and businesses in the local area will be impacted by works and, in some cases, severely disrupted,” the spokeswoman continued.
She added: “These works are an essential part of this project and, whilst we appreciate the disruption this will cause in the short-term, this will enable residents and businesses to avail of the many social, economic and environmental benefits of natural gas.
“We will continue to work with local councillors, businesses and community groups to facilitate a practical and efficient programme of works with minimal disruption to traffic.”