Removal of lay-by outside Ballymena school raises safety concerns

The removal of a lay-by outside a Ballymena school has prompted an angry reaction among Mid and East Antrim councillors at a meeting earlier this week, writes Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

Friday, 17th September 2021, 3:14 pm

Deputy Mayor TUV Councillor Matthew Armstrong demanded that DfI”s Active Travel officials appear before the Direct Services Committee to explain its decision.

Speaking at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday evening, Cllr Armstrong told councillors that the only safe entrance to the school for buses has been removed. “Now buses and parents have to stop right in a single carriageway”, he said.

He claimed there was no consultation with local councillors adding: “Their arrogance is astounding”. “I have listened to their paperthin excuses and they’re not going to wash. They have put lives of children in danger on Larne Road.”

He hit out at a recent request from DfI  to the borough council “asking permission to do something at Antrim Road” in Ballymena.

DfI has written to the council outlining a proposal to provide a footway/cycleway from the access road between Ballee and Harryville Community Enterprise units to Ballee Roundabout and the entrance to the Education Authority headquarters.

A letter to the council said that the scheme will “promote active travel and create a safe walkway and cycle infrastructure”

Cllr Armstrong pointed out that this plan would involve crossing a major road. “What part of that is safe?” he queried.

“It is Utopian nonsense that everybody is going to jump on a bike or walk everywhere. It’s cloud cuckoo land. “Nobody has talked to residents, the school or parents. They (DfI) have their fingers in their ears and they don’t care.

“I recommend this council asks Active Travel to appear before this committee.”

Independent Ballymena Councillor James Henry commented: “They have really made a mess outside Slemish school taking away the lay-by. I second the proposal.”

A council officer told the meeting that she would write to the Department “to make sure they are aware of concerns”.

Ballymena DUP councillor Alderman John Carson remarked: “How Roads Service came to this conclusion as far as Larne Road is concerned, I do not know. I would be very concerned for the safety of the children because this is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Commenting on social media, Slemish College said: “A number of parents have raised concerns regarding the new road layout on the Larne Road.

“Unfortunately the College was not consulted on the impact of these changes and we have serious concerns with the ongoing impact in terms of safety and journey times.”

Parents were also told that the school has been in communication with the Department for Infrastructure.

The issue was highlighted by TUV leader Jim Allister to Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon on Wednesday.

Mr Allister asked the Minister why the “road narrowing scheme in the vicinity of Slemish College proceeded without any consultation with local stakeholders including the school, Translink, local businesses, residents and elected representatives”.

The Minister said: “The Larne Road is a good example of where overuse of private transport creates congestion at busy times.

“This scheme which is part of a larger footway/cycleway network in the area was brought forward and incorporated into a carriageway and footway resurfacing scheme  which was planned to be carried out over the summer months to reduce its impacts.

“As a result, the opportunity for external consultation was reduced. However, the scheme had been included in the DfI Spring Roads Council Report presented to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on 26 July 2021.

“In this instance, further considerations were that the existing parking arrangements  on Larne Road were compromising the visibiltiy splays required for the recently constructed housing development adjacent to the school entrance and also that there is a pick up/set down area within the school grounds.

“I understand that officials have engaged with the school principal and Translink to determine if any adjustments can be made to access arrangements at the school to reduce congestion at busy times whilst promoting active travel.

“I am also aware that officials met with councillors and yourself to listen and address concerns that had been raised and I have asked them to continue to monitor the impact over the coming months.”