Joint effort to address Strangford ferry issues

Joint effort to address Strangford ferry issues

9 January 2019

POLITICIANS on both sides of Strangford Lough are to join forces to help improve the busy waterway’s ferry crossing and address local concerns.

As part of a two-pronged initiative, they are to meet with the area’s most senior roads official who is responsible for the service at the end of the month.

A meeting with the Department for Infrastructure’s Permanent Secretary is also being sought.

Two key issues will dominate the agenda at both meetings — the need to address traffic congestion in the heart of Strangford and agreement for an earlier morning crossing from the Portaferry side of the lough.

There was unanimous support at Monday night’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council to raise timetabling and operational issues with senior civil servants to address increasing concern on both sides of the waterway.

Local politicians will be joined by their North Down and Ards counterparts for a meeting with roads official Simon Richardson on January 29, with the councillors and MPs and MLAs from the South Down and Strangford constituencies hoping to meet soon after with Department for Infrastructure Permanent Secretary Katrina Godfrey.

Congestion at peak periods, especially during bank holidays and over the summer are common place in Strangford, frustrating residents and business owners in particular.

Politicians want civil servants to ensure drivers wishing to board the ferry use a dedicated lane which runs alongside the ferry terminal.

The lane is rarely used and politicians are calling for additional finance to be provided so staff can ensure the lane is more fully utilised to combat the congestion problem.

In Portaferry, many people use the ferry crossing to make their way to work on this side of Strangford Lough but the first morning sailing is always busy.

As a result, some passengers are forced to leave their car in Strangford all week, travelling as foot passengers on the ferry to make sure they get the early crossing.

Councillors say that given the number of people who use the ferry in the morning, there is a need for an earlier sailing than the first scheduled crossing at 7.45am.

The concerns of commuters, residents and business owners were highlighted on Monday night by a number of politicians following a motion tabled by Cllr Cadogan Enright.

He said: “On the Strangford side, those responsible for the ferry service maintain they can save on personnel costs by not using the dedicated queuing area as part of their normal operations.

“This results in in regular blockages and there are letters from Translink and local businesses complaining about regular shutdowns in the village due to congestion, with the line of vehicles extending back along the Downpatrick Road. The congestion also blocks access at the crossroads to Kilclief and Ballyhornan.”

Cllr Enright said the problem had been “grinding on” for a number of years and could no longer be ignored.

He said it was no longer acceptable to say that roads congestion in Strangford and the problems on the Portaferry side were not the Department for Infrastructure’s responsibility.

He added: “Ferry service managers insist that the congestion in Strangford is not a matter for them, but for their roads counterparts.

“Both departments are under the Department of Infrastructure which is why it is vital we meet with the Permanent Secretary to see if heads can be banged together and any budgetary issues resolved.”

Cllr Gareth Sharvin said there had been many occasions where vehicles queuing to use the ferry service in Strangford had a dramatic impact on the village.

He added: “There is a perfectly good traffic flow system already in place which is not being utilised by drivers. We need to ensure there is enough resource to accommodate ferry traffic flow and demand to minimise the impact on Strangford residents.”

Cllr Billy Walker suggested the provision of a bridge linking Strangford and Portaferry should perhaps be considered.

Cllr Enright’s motion was also supported by Cllrs Willie Clarke, Jill Macauley and John Trainor.