Minister says it’s ‘too early’ for report on Ballynahinch bypass

Minister says it’s ‘too early’ for report on Ballynahinch bypass

12 February 2020

JUST weeks into her new job, Stormont roads minister Nichola Mallon says it is “too early” to provide a progress report on Ballynahinch’s proposed multi-million pound bypass.

South Down MLA Jim Wells had asked the minister at the helm of the Department for Infrastructure to provide an update on the scheme.

His request —  via a written Assembly question — came after local politicians agreed to seek an early meeting with Ms Mallon to make the case for work to start on the proposed £35m scheme.

In her response to Mr Wells, the minister said that she recognises that many in the local community support the provision of a bypass in Ballynahinch. 

But added: “Unfortunately, I have inherited severe and challenging budget constraints. But I am committed to working to find solutions that deliver better for our communities and improve lives across Northern Ireland. 

“I will be assessing the pressures across my department reflecting on my priorities, the commitments in the ‘New Decade: New Approach’ document and the budget made available for the period ahead.”

Ms Mallon said that as a result, it is therefore “too early to comment on specific schemes such as the Ballynahinch bypass”.

Designed to alleviate chronic town centre congestion in Ballynahinch and along the main approach roads to the town, major new roundabouts are proposed at the Belfast Road junction with the Saintfield Road and at the Newcastle Road junction with the Downpatrick Road.

Overtaking lanes stretching almost 900 metres are proposed at either end of the by-pass where major new roundabouts are to be constructed, with the scheme also including a shared footpath and cycle lane.

During last week’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, there was across-the-board political support for a motion seeking a meeting with Ms Mallon and seniors roads engineers to discuss the Ballynahinch scheme.

It was tabled by Rowallane councillor Billy Walker, who is keen to see work starting on the near two-mile scheme to link the Newcastle and Saintfield roads.

He said the scheme has been shovel ready for some time and is hoping the Department for Infrastructure will allocate funding to allow construction work, which is expected to take in excess of 18 months to complete, to begin.

Cllr Walker argued that the Newry, Mourne and Down area has missed out on significant roads funding for decades, with many major schemes constructed in other parts of the Province.

He added: “The time has come for this council to demand its fair share of infrastructure funding. I have been a councillor for over 14 years and the bypass issue has been raised during every one of them.”

Slieve Croob councillor Cathy Mason described Ballynahinch as the “gateway” to the wider South Down area through which all traffic must pass, including HGVs. She said this not only frustrates drivers who are part of the through traffic, but increases tension and danger for those living, shopping and working in the town.

Cllr Mason said that housing is also being permitted up to the line of the planned new road and includes the potential for a park and ride site.

She added: “The bypass has been proposed since the 1960s and for decades local community and political representatives from all parties have demanded this new road. The new infrastructure minister must signal the start of work on the multi-million pound road scheme”.

Rowallane councillor Robert Burgess is also keen to see work on the bypass get underway and hopes that Ms Mallon will also formally sign off the scheme to upgrade the final section of the A7 between Doran’s Rock and Rowallane Garden in Saintfield.

He said: “The bypass is critically important to the social and economic regeneration of not only Ballynahinch, but the wider South Down area.”