Politicians, residents and businesses are divided over plans to make Ormeau Road in Belfast car-free over the summer weekends.
The ‘Open Ormeau’ plan is supported by SDLP Member of Parliament Claire Hanna and the party’s city councilors.
The Alliance and Green parties also support the proposal, but DUP MLA Christopher Stalford says it could have disastrous consequences for the area.
The initiative would lead to the expansion of outdoor restaurants and bars in a European café culture system. It would help those companies struggling to remain viable in light of the social distance guidelines.
However, other local businesses say closing Ormeau Road over the weekend could harm their trade, and some residents have raised concerns about possible drunkenness, litter and street parking.
According to the original proposals, much of Ormeau Road would be closed to traffic every weekend during the summer.
After consultation, this plan was reduced to one weekend and to one Saturday and one Sunday before autumn. The idea of ’Open Ormeau’ originated from Ciaran Fox, a director of the Royal Society of Architects.
Mr. Stalford said, “Open Ormeau is a well-intentioned but ill-conceived idea.
“The main beneficiaries are pubs and restaurants that do not make up the majority of businesses on the road. Other businesses are dead against it. Those who do most of their business on weekends will be injured.
“When Ormeau Road is closed, the cars will drive down Ravenhill, which is already very busy and therefore has consequences for residents there.”
Fergal McAdam, owner of home furnishings store Neptune, said 40 of the 42 entrepreneurs he spoke to were against the plan.
“It will kill companies a mile north and a mile south,” he said. Ormeau Road is an arterial route. If you cut off the blood supply to an artery, you kill the limb. “
While such a proposal could bring benefits to the hospitality industry, it didn’t work in a mixed shopping area, he added.
Michael Goggin, owner of Michel’s Fruit, said: “I have set up my business here with heart and soul for 22 years and this plan will make me lose customers and help the major supermarkets effectively.
“The Ormeau Road works perfectly as it is. This will lead to drinking on the street and no social distance.
The name ‘Open Ormeau’ is wrong. It is really about closing and limiting things. “
But Paul Smyth of the Ballynafeigh Community Development Association said there was a lot of support for Open Ormeau. “There is a lot of positivity about it. Nearly 1,000 people took part in our online survey, and two-thirds of them supported the proposal,” he said.
“We have revised our plans to take into account those who were concerned, especially businesses. We hope the new plans will ease some of the fear and bring more people behind the initiative.
“This event is not about drinking on the street. The point is to free up more space for pedestrians.
“Kinsale did it, Malahide did it. We want the place to be like a Parisian street where people can move around safely, enjoy each other’s company and support local businesses. ”
SDLP Councilor Gary McKeown said, “This is a community-driven initiative to help the area with a lot of different residents. It’s a grassroots movement.
“It is intended to reduce traffic and support local businesses. I understand that some are against and some against.
“Consultation and involvement are essential. Nothing is being imposed. This is a conversation we are having. No one wants to get into this with bad blood and we hope for a common foundation.”