Long-running dispute over road safety improvements takes new turn

Robbie Butler MLA (left) with Cllr Alexander Redpath at the Knockmore Road/Ballinderry Road junction.
Robbie Butler MLA (left) with Cllr Alexander Redpath at the Knockmore Road/Ballinderry Road junction.

The completion of long-awaited safety improvement works at two busy junctions on Lisburn’s Knockmore Road could still be some way off.

Plans for junction upgrades on the route, including the installation of traffic signals, have been in the pipeline for more than a decade, but a dispute over completion of the work shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) insists that three construction firms behind new residential developments in the area are responsible for carrying out improvement works at the Prince William Road and Ballinderry Road junctions, and also at the nearby Ballymacash Road / Prince William Road intersection. However, it’s understood the firms are unhappy that the department has changed the upgrade plans that were originally agreed, meaning the cost of the required works has increased from hundreds of thousands of pounds to several million.

In a fresh twist to the long-running saga, there is now a difference of opinion between the department and council planners about whose responsibility it is to ensure the developers carry out the junction improvements.

While the chairman of the local authority’s Planning Committee has called on TransportNI to push the developers to carry out the works, the department says it is council planners who are responsible for enforcing an Article 40 planning agreement with the building companies involved.

Knockmore Road has been the scene of a number of serious crashes and near misses over recent years. And following another collision last week, Ulster Unionist Party Councillor Alexander Redpath has called for the junction safety improvements to be implemented as soon as possible.

“The traffic lights at the Knockmore Road have been a key priority for me since I joined the council. I have consistently campaigned to speed up the delivery of these vital road improvements,” he said.

“I recently met with senior officials from TransportNI to urge them to move this matter forward. Sadly, the council has received advice that we are not the competent authority to enforce the Article 40 agreement which mandates the developers to deliver these road improvements. We have informed TransportNI of this and I urge them to do all within their power to move this matter forward with the developer.

“There have been fatalities on this road in the past and there may be again in the future unless TransportNI act.”

Despite the council’s legal advice suggesting that TransportNI has to move the issue forward, the Department for Infrastructure says it’s not its responsibility.

“These road improvements are secured by way of an Article 40 planning agreement between the developers and the local planning authority. By not providing these road improvements, the developers are currently in breach of their Article 40 planning agreement, which is a matter for the local planning authority to enforce,” a DfI spokesperson said.

“The department has made the local planning authority aware of this; it is the local planning authority’s responsibility to enforce Article 40.”

The spokesperson stressed that the department “remains committed to working with the developers and local planning authority to ensure the delivery of these important road improvements.”

A spokesman for one of the housing developers involved in the long-running dispute commented: “There are ongoing meetings with council planners and TransportNI to resolve this impasse and come up with a solution.

“The parties have been trying to get a resolution for 10 years now and have had no response to an offer of a very significant financial contribution made in September 2014. Everyone wants this matter resolved as soon as possible.”

With the DfI insisting that all roadworks must meet current highway design standards - thought to be significantly different to those proposed in 2006 - the dispute over the junction improvements could be set to run for some time to come.