Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for Infrastructure, meeting on Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr W Humphrey (Chairperson)
Mr G Robinson MBE (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms K Armstrong
Mr A Easton
Mr P Girvan
Mr D McAleer
Mr E McCann
Mr F McCann
Mr D McCrossan
Mr J McNulty


Witnesses:

Mr Christopher McCausland, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce
Mr Gordon McElroy, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce
Mr Paul McMahon, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce
Mr John Moore, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce



Briefing by Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): I welcome Mr Gordon McElroy, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce; Mr Paul McMahon, past president; Mr Christopher McCausland, senior vice president; and Mr John Moore MBE, past president. I advise you that the evidence you give will be reported by Hansard. I invite you to make a presentation and then take some questions. We would appreciate it if the presentation was as brief as possible. That is not to curtail debate, but we are under considerable time constraints.

Mr Gordon McElroy (Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce): Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. We very much welcome the opportunity to make a presentation to the Committee. Briefly, by way of introduction, the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce represents more than 400 businesses in the city. It is the main business body related exclusively to the city and we make no bones about saying that we are interested in promoting Belfast.

Much of what we are likely to say will be, hopefully, positive reinforcement of what the chief executive of the city council has been presenting to the Committee but, in saying that we believe that we should put Belfast first, it is important to understand that that is Belfast as the main economic driver for the whole region. It does not mean that only Belfast should get what investment is available but, in considering what investment is available, the impact on Belfast should be a prime consideration. In that context, we remain concerned that the Programme for Government does not have enough emphasis on establishing a specific policy for Belfast as the capital of the region and as the main economic driver in the region.

Belfast has a population of around 330,000 people. Remember that the greater Belfast area employs nearly 50% of all the people who are in employment in Northern Ireland. Two hundred and thirty thousand of that workforce travel in and out of Belfast for their job every day. That is an enormous number of people putting an enormous stretch on infrastructure in the city. Recently, Belfast has gone through a period of success. We have seen that in the growth of our technology industry, in our entertainment industry and in the number of restaurants that are opening, but Belfast faces some significant challenges. There are two that are current and immediate and that, we believe, the Department has the capacity to assist in addressing, and that the Committee, holding the Department to account, should help us to work towards. One is the fact that the city is not being granted regeneration powers. These are important powers, and, if we hope to see Belfast move forward, it is important that the planning issues that Suzanne has just mentioned are dealt with comprehensively with the ability to regenerate. The other recent issue that has the potential to affect the city is the recent High Court decision on the Sprucefield development. That poses a real risk, and there is a chance, as the Javelin report demonstrates, that there could be a loss of city growth of 9% over the next number of years. Where do those two things put us? They put us in a position where we have to work harder to make the city better, and that working harder involves all of us acting collectively.

That takes us to the question of where, in infrastructure, we need that work to take place. We heard reference in the chief executive's presentation to the fact that there has been a diaspora from Belfast and, as Mr McCann rightly commented, many cities have experienced the same thing. As Mr McCann also commented, it tends to be because of pricing in the city centre. This has not been the issue in Belfast. The issue in Belfast is that people have been driven out of the city centre because we had the long period of the Troubles, and those people are now commuting into the city every day. We need an infrastructure that is capable of accommodating those people coming in and out of the city.

Over the last number of years, since at least 2002, there has been a lot of talk about trying to achieve a modal shift to public transport. As a chamber, we are very supportive of the concept of a modal shift to public transport but the thing that will make that happen is not to impose restrictions and difficulties on commuters and shoppers, our customers and our clients, using their cars. The thing that will make it happen is to improve the quality of public transport, and it is our view that the policies adopted heretofore have emphasised the former, challenging the commuter, the client and the customer, without creating a sufficiently high quality public service to encourage them to make use of it. The Belfast agenda hopes to see 70,000 more residents in the city by 2035. The short-term objective is to have 15,000 more jobs by 2021. That economic success is going to bring more traffic, not less, to the city. Our existing arrangements are stretched and they are going to be stretched even further and will require investment.

One of the criticisms of the city that the chamber hears most often is that there is difficulty in accessing it. This is a constant and ongoing criticism of Belfast. We regularly hear that clients and customers avoid coming to Belfast because of access issues. Some of that may be perception but some of it is real. There are things that create perceptions, such as the introduction of the 20 mph zone and the bus lane cameras and the press attention on the amount of revenue that is being generated from them. Those things frighten people from coming into the city. People are also concerned about the limited amount of on-street car parking and the number of fines that are imposed on people who mistakenly park in loading bays, especially on a Sunday, when little or no loading goes on in the city. It is our view that while those policies may have been developed for good reasons — to encourage that modal shift — they have done more harm than good to the city.

The TomTom traffic index has frequently been quoted on 'Good Morning Ulster' and in the 'Belfast Telegraph' telling us that Belfast is the most congested city in the United Kingdom. We suspect that this is not true. What is true from the TomTom index is that at peak times the length of time that it takes people to travel to their destination doubles. Normally, at 10.00 am in Belfast there is not a huge volume of cars. What we have, however, are systems that create delay — to our mind, unnecessarily.

An alternative report, the INRIX report, suggests that at one point Belfast was one of the top 10 congested cities in the UK, and that was because of the York Street interchange, which has been talked about a lot. I think I heard this morning that funds have been committed to address that. Perhaps I misunderstood that.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): Not from this Committee. That was just the SL1 to start the work.

Mr McElroy: If that is the case, then one of the things that we would ask the Committee to do is to continue to press for those funds and keep the Department on track to ensure that those funds are made available.

One other interesting thing that the TomTom index shows is that there was a year when there was a dip in congestion in Belfast. That was in 2009 which, as all of us in the private sector know, was a disastrous year for the economy. The thing that will reduce the volume of traffic in any city is recession. We do not want to see a recession again. We want growth in the economy, which will encourage more trips through the city.

What are we asking the Department to address, and what would we like the Committee to bring back to the Department? There are some things that are immediate. Our members and the people who deal with them are most concerned about the amount of confusion that is being created by the bus lanes in Belfast. They are concerned that the bus lanes are operating at different times. Corporation Street, for example, has a bus lane but only one bus service up and down it and there is never congestion on it. The layout on Oxford Street is another concern. These are all things that are detrimental to people moving around the city. It does not mean that there should not be bus lanes or lanes set aside for specific types of traffic to improve transport flow. We really support the introduction of Belfast rapid transit, and the bus lanes that serve it should be there. We propose to the Department that it be more radical and remove the non-BRT-related bus lanes as an experiment, as was done in Liverpool, where it was found that traffic was freed up and moved much more easily through the city. On a smaller point, the revenue from the bus lanes that is generated by the traffic cameras is, for want of a better expression, a form of congestion charge. The great economist who introduced the thought of congestion charges was very clear: where you tax people for making use of their private car in a city, that revenue should be reinvested in the public transport network. To the extent that any bus lane charging is reasonable, the revenue should be reinvested in the city.

On-street car parking should be transferred to Belfast City Council. It should be used to drive business in the city and make sure things happen properly. It should not be priced for revenue for central government. We support the introduction of smart car parking and the type of signage that Suzanne was talking about. It should be clear to people coming into the city where they can park, what spaces are available and how to get to them. That is something that the Department should be investing in. That is a key part of our infrastructure. We need to move away from the concept that Belfast, as a city, is unfriendly to the car user. Belfast should be extremely friendly to the car user: that is the vast bulk of our population. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to have a full root-and-branch review and reform of bus lanes in the city. If there is one single thing, in the short-term, that we would ask this Committee to take away, it is that such a root-and-branch reform should take place.

I did not hear Suzanne's presentation about city deals, but we would like to commend the city deal for Belfast to the Committee. We look at what has happened in Cardiff: 10 local authorities have worked together, and the Welsh Assembly and UK Government are each contributing £500 million over a 10-year period. We look at what happens in Glasgow, where eight local authorities are working together. Cities the size of Inverness, with a population of 230-odd thousand, have a city deal. We have real aspirations for Belfast. We really want to see Belfast having infrastructure that is commensurate with the city, its history, its population and its aspirations. We want to see a true metro system and the rail links to Lisburn and north Down electrified to allow a greater volume of connectivity. We must all put our shoulders to the wheel and support the city deal agenda.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): Members, I want to get everybody in, and I want to complete all the presentations in the time in front of us. So, I ask members to be succinct in their questions. Do not make statements. I ask those replying to be succinct in their responses so that we get the maximum out of the exchange, which is valuable.

Ms Armstrong: I have two quick questions, both related to travel through the city. Historically, infrastructure expenditure on road building and passenger transport has been 80:20. Have you had any discussions with the Department about rebalancing the budget to ensure that your ask for better public transport can be realised?

Mr McElroy: We have not had any direct contact with the Department. This is our opportunity to have contact with the Department. We understand that you are the Committee, and we are trying to make our representations to the Department, I suppose, through you. We have regular and frequent communication with public transport by working closely with Translink. Norman Maynes, who is a senior executive in Translink, is a former president of the chamber, so we work hand in glove.

We cannot comment on the statistics that you have given me, but we can say that the road infrastructure and the public transport system need to be improved.

Ms Armstrong: I suggest that you contact the Department directly, and the Committee can look at that afterwards.

I received a presentation from the Royal Hospital and the hospitals in the Belfast Health and Social Care area a while ago, and 60% of the traffic coming into Belfast is hospital-related. Have you had any discussions with them on their transport plans and on encouraging patients to use public transport? They do not provide patients with the opportunity of deciding which type of transport they use to get to their hospital appointments. Surely, it would help your customers if patients were using public transport.

Mr McElroy: It is a statistic that is new to me. Certainly, we have had no contact with hospitals. They would not normally be within our steer, as a business body, but, if it is a live issue, we are happy to engage.

Ms Armstrong: It would be a good thing. We talk about government having joined-up thinking; it would be good to see the realisation that transport is not all about commuters and there are others coming into our cities.

Mr McElroy: It is a fair point.

Mrs Palmer: I apologise for being late this morning, Chair. I made a very poor decision to use public transport to come to the city. The bus broke down, and there were major blockages on the motorway.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): Now you have a chance to ask questions.

Mrs Palmer: It leads into my question around the infrastructure necessary for the free-flow of traffic into the city and how, hopefully, the Minister's preparations in delivering that infrastructure, through the new Belfast hub, will be of benefit. I am disappointed that you raised the issue of Sprucefield and the lifting of the ban on white goods. I believe that Sprucefield can be a suburb of the whole of the city of Belfast with regard to distance. That would be beneficial unless you are thinking contrary to that. Sprucefield can be of benefit to Belfast by taking cars out of the city. Maybe that is something that you are opposed to. There should be a better partnership approach. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Mr McElroy: Yes. Traffic policy should not drive the economics of the city. Traffic policy is something that follows and flows from the economics of the city. At the moment, we have vacancy rates of 17% in Belfast city centre. Rents have been on the decline; perhaps they have bottomed out. Belfast City Council is keen to see new office development. For that to happen, it has to be sustainable and generate sufficient income to allow developers to invest in the city centre. The Sprucefield scheme has the capacity to suck life further out of the city centre. Even, as an incidental, if there is less traffic coming into the city centre, that demonstrates the fact that it will have done damage to the economy of the city centre. Belfast and Northern Ireland need a thriving Belfast city centre as the driver of the economy. Any scheme that takes large amounts of retail from this area — within half a mile of where we are sitting — is detrimental not just to Belfast but to Northern Ireland as a whole. The fact that it may create a reduction in traffic is only indicative of the damage that it will have done.

Mrs Palmer: I am disappointed by that response. Are you saying that competition should not be open to the rest of Northern Ireland? Your views in this chamber suggest that there should be no direct competition from other companies in other cities and towns in Northern Ireland simply because Belfast needs that 17%.

Mr McElroy: Not at all, but it is about ensuring that we have a level playing field. At the moment, we have a city centre that, historically, has been the core for retail and has all the necessary planning consents for retail.

We are talking about creating something to exist in competition with it that does not need to be there and can be properly accommodated in the city. To damage this city is to damage the whole Province.

Mrs Palmer: I think that you underestimate yourselves. I will leave it at that, Chair.

Mr McCrossan: Thank you, Gordon. I welcome John, Christopher and Paul to the Committee. Your presentation was very good. We all appreciate the difficulties with infrastructure in the city. I have travelled into it many times. That is not what my focus will be. I will focus on what I asked the chief executive. It is a very important question to pose, particularly as you are a representative of the wider Belfast area on matters of business and the economy. A huge amount of EU funding comes into this area and has done for a number of years. If Brexit happens tomorrow, how will that impact the local economy in terms of infrastructure and jobs? Will it be negative or positive?

Mr McElroy: I would love to have a crystal ball; we all would. None of us understands what Brexit will entail. From our perspective, as a business body that represents Belfast, we are low down the food chain in getting information on what Brexit may mean. I can tell you that we have reached out to Dublin with a view to trying to establish greater business connections between Dublin and Belfast in the anticipation that, if Brexit is a threat, there may also be opportunities from a business perspective. For us, it is a question of looking for the opportunities. That is really about as much as we can say about it at the moment. The funding and infrastructure need to be secured. Where it comes from is outside our gift.

Mr McCrossan: I appreciate you answering the question. As I said to the chief executive, there is sensitivity surrounding that question. There should not be any sensitivity because it is about the economy, jobs and infrastructure, and the reality for all of us is to realise is that hundreds of millions of pounds will be ripped from the local economy, whether anyone around this table appreciates it or not. It will be devastating. If anyone truly believes that the Northern Ireland Executive will deliver the dreamboat — roads and everything else — they are fooling themselves. We really need to get tougher on this question. We cannot afford to lose this money. This city cannot afford to lose this money. It is high time that people were honest with themselves. I hope that people get more honest with themselves and with the public about what will happen here. Thank you for answering the question.

Mr Easton: You raised the issue of loading bays, which is a big bugbear of mine at the moment. In Bangor, it is causing huge confusion for people who want to park in them. Are you finding that experience here and do you agree that it is affecting trade? I do not know by how much, but it is certainly affecting trade and people being able to get parked in the city centre and certainly in my area.

Mr McElroy: I agree wholeheartedly on all points, as a resident of Bangor and as somebody who carries out business in Belfast.

Mr Easton: Coincidence.

Mr McElroy: Our offices are on Great Victoria Street, and we are now down to having two freely available car parking spaces outside a 10-storey building that houses in the region of 250 people carrying out their business and that is visited by clients. That is largely because of loading bays and because of — I do not think that this is the case in Bangor — an increase in the number of taxi ranks in Belfast. Even though there is a reduction in the actual number of taxis, the Department seems to want to increase the number of taxi ranks. Again, that is reducing the opportunity for short-term parking. To concentrate specifically on loading bays, the issue is not only the loading bays themselves and the number of them but the times at which they are in force. They are frequently in force at times when there will be no loading to those stores.

Mr McAleer: I have a couple of points to begin with. There seems to be a good relationship between you and the council, and I commend that. It is a good way to move forward, and it is refreshing to hear that from you and in the previous presentation.

On the bus lanes issue, I am from the country and can fully identify with what you say. On the last day that I was here, I paid for it. I crossed into the bus lane, so I paid the fine. I have to say that it was with great trepidation that I came back here today. I can imagine how off-putting it is for the hundreds of people who straddle the bus lanes. I am just coming clean. [Laughter.]

No doubt, you will have taken the opportunity to see the recent report that the Finance Minister put out on rates. He identified a number of areas in Belfast as pilot zones for enterprise and announced a stimulus package for the retail and hospitality sectors. I am sure that you will respond to the consultation. What is your view of that? Do you think that it will have a positive impact on the economy and businesses in the city?

Mr McElroy: As a chamber, we have not concluded our view, because, as you say, the consultation is open. Our initial reaction is, I believe, positive. It may be better if I put it like this: any policy that is designed to stimulate the growth of new business is a plus. There are certainly inequities in the current system for the rating of licensed premises. That is being addressed in the new policy, and we are supportive of that.

On the wider rates piece, we are very aware of the fact that this square mile generates in the region of 65% of the freely available rates income that the council has to spend. Our members carrying on business in the city are by far the major contributors to funding the activities of the council. You will probably not be surprised to hear that, in our view, the rates burden that is imposed on business is disproportionate. That may well form a significant part of our response to the Finance Minister's proposals.

Mr McAleer: I note the infrastructure priorities that you have mapped out in your manifesto. We share those priorities, and they are moving forward at different rates. I hear what you say about how that will contribute to relieving congestion in the city. Are there any other innovative solutions from the business sector that could contribute in some way to easing congestion, such as staggering work times in the city?

Mr McElroy: It is difficult. The concept of staggering work times has been mooted and promoted in other cities. I am not aware of it having been successfully implemented anywhere, although I may be wrong about that.
The fact of the matter is that, for relatively small businesses such as mine and for retail, business still needs to be carried on within fairly standardised hours. My business is as a solicitor, and we have roughly 30 people working in our office. Those people need to be available to clients at times that clients expect. That is just an economic reality. Likewise for Mr Moore: his customers expect the shop to be open at particular times. Likewise for Paul who manages CastleCourt. The customers coming in and out of CastleCourt expect the shops to be open at particular times. That is an economic driver that makes it extremely different to say, "Let's try to stagger the hours because we have difficulties with people getting in and out of the city". It is something you would love to be able to do, but, in the real world, it is something that economic circumstances do not allow us to do at the moment.

Mr McNulty: Thank you Gordon, John, Christopher and Paul. You are very welcome to the Committee.

I will make one point. The commuter belt goes beyond Lisburn and Bangor. I know a young lady who is a solicitor working in Belfast and has to leave Tassagh, near Keady in County Armagh, at 6.15 am to be in work at one of our big law firms in Belfast at 9.00 am. Has the Belfast Chamber conducted any research on the productivity deficit as an outcome of the logjam of traffic every morning for people travelling from constituencies such as Newry and Armagh and elsewhere?

Mr McElroy: The short answer is no. Among other things, we do not have the resources to undertake such an extensive piece of work. The longer answer is that, anecdotally from our membership, we are very aware of the difficulties that are created and the travel times for people coming into work. I have a partner who is based in Magherafelt. To take the earlier point, remote working has been some solution to that, but it will never be the solution. People still need to be in the city at their desk in that 8.30 am to 9.00 am slot. However, we are very conscious of the burden that that places on quite a number of the employees who come into the city. It is a personal burden as well. It affects not only the amount of CO2 that is emitted into the air but people's family lives if they have to wait for a long time or take that extra time to get home to see the children at night. That really requires proper, joined-up answers and solutions to the daily commute and getting the infrastructure right.

Mr McNulty: You mentioned your links with Translink and that you had reached out to Dublin. Do you see there being an advantage in increased connectivity between our capital cities through an hourly Enterprise service that would provide a reliable, frequent service between Dublin and Belfast?

Mr McElroy: The chamber is very much on record as saying that there needs to be a fast rail link between Dublin and Belfast. The objective should be one hour. The fact that it takes longer to travel by train from Dublin to Belfast now than it did 100 years ago does not reflect well on the current service.

Mr McNulty: Absolutely.

Mr F McCann: Like everyone else, I thank you for the presentation. It was interesting, although I could certainly have a debate with you about why people moved out of Belfast. I live a few hundred yards from here, in Divis. At one stage in 1971, 27,000 people lived in the parish of St Peter's; there are 6,000 today. They all moved out, mostly because of slum clearance. I know that the Troubles had an impact, but it started back in the early 1960s, when people were moving out of the city. People chose to move out for a number of reasons.

One point that I want to make is this: I can understand what Jenny says, because she lives in the constituency where Sprucefield is situated, but I was in Dundalk last Sunday, and it is a town that has completely died on its feet because of out-of-town shopping. That has had a huge impact there, but it is not the only town on which it has had a major impact. What people forget — it was mentioned in the earlier presentation by the chief executive of Belfast City Council — is that 51% of the people who are employed in Belfast come from outside the city. Looking at the map, I see that most of them come from Jenny's constituency. That needs to be considered.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): Will you come to a question?

Mr F McCann: I will. Sorry.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): I do not disagree with much that you are saying, but I need to encourage you to ask a question.

Mr F McCann: I was in my flow, Chair.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): I am sorry to disrupt your flow.

Mr F McCann: I asked a question earlier about parking. As I said, I live in Divis. Coming into the city two Sundays ago, the traffic was at a standstill and the Westlink was backed up. Have you ever brought up with the Department, the council or whomever the need to look at additional forms of information on where parking might be available and how people can get to car parks in order to make it easier?

Kellie raised the issue of how essential public transport is.

Chair, I know that you will pull me again, but I want to make one final point. You talked about loading bays in the city: would it not make more sense for those to be used at night, as happens in some other cities? Doing that would free up many parking spaces in the city.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): I think that there were two questions.

Mr McElroy: There were three, I think. On the point about using loading bays at night, that takes us back to the days of the Roman empire. It was a good idea for Rome 2,000 years ago, but it is beyond our sphere of expertise to comment on that at the moment.

We made representations on car parking to the then Department for Regional Development. The council has a car parking consultation under way, and we have engaged in that. Part of it is about the promotion of an app that will give more information on car parking. We are not convinced that the council has got car parking right in its consultation. The council strategy seems to suggest that the level of car parking should remain constant. Our view is that, if the council wants to see the city grow, there needs to be space for more cars, because there will be more cars coming to the city. Creating a constraint on the ability of people to bring their car into the city will be detrimental to growth. Have I missed anything?

Mr F McCann: Probably about five or six issues, but I will bring them up again.

Mr Robinson: Thank you for your presentation. I am just a wee country boy, and wanting to avoid the bus lanes is one of the reasons that I did not bring my car this morning. Even then, I was stalled in getting here on time. I was an hour late because of Northern Ireland Railway signalling problems all the way from Coleraine to Belfast. That needs to be looked into. I listened to other passengers this morning who said that they had encountered the same difficulties two or three days ago.

My question is on parking. What puts a lot of people off visiting or shopping in the city is the fact that the private car parking operators seem to have a monopoly. The prices that they charge have been mentioned to me. The prices put quite a lot of people off.

Mr McElroy: I will let Paul, who is one of the largest private car park operators in the city, address that issue.

Mr Paul McMahon (Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce): I was hoping that the president would answer that one. Again, that forms part of the belief that people have. We talked earlier about perception. For a study several years ago, we went to some of our arterial towns to ask people how much they thought it was to park in Belfast. There was a high level of inaccuracy between what people should pay and what people perceived they would pay. It goes back to something that Gordon mentioned: if our planning policy was correct and we had sufficient car parking provision in the city, that in itself would help regulate the pricing. The either/or policy of the Department — public transport and not private car use — means that it stops people building car parks. That in itself drives car park pricing up. We have undertaken a lot of work recently to make our car parks more competitive. The rates bill for our car park alone, based on the net added value, is a seven-figure number, so we are a big contributor to the city in rates payable. It is a business like any other, and it remains a competitive business. We accept to some degree that there is work to be done on communicating our car parking prices. On-street parking is competitive. The chamber challenged the Department when it levied a £1 all-day rate in cities everywhere apart from Belfast. The chamber is on record as saying that that should not have happened. So, we accept some of that.

While I have a moment, Chair, it may be worth sharing something with the group from a retail perspective. The retail dynamic is shifting considerably. We have the Internet, which we will never stop. Internet shopping continues to grow at double-digit growth, and traditional retailing continues to be put under pressure. Statistics show that cities across the UK continue to have an erosion of their traditional retailing income. If we do not get Belfast right, a lot of things will happen, one of which will be that businesses will fail at a higher rate than they did even in the worst of our recession. If they do that, they will not contribute to the rates base. Landlords are changing the model of how they take in rent, because they no longer can look at the money going into a till in a store, as a lot of it goes to the Internet. The rates base needs to be looked at so that we can make sure that our businesses stay competitive. In response to an earlier comment, I say that, if we do not get Belfast right from a business and retail perspective, we will simply make the dispersal wider. Once we get to a certain stage, there will be no coming back.

Mr Robinson: I have a supplementary. I agree that bus lanes definitely need to be reviewed. There is no doubt about that.

The Chairperson (Mr Humphrey): You will not have long to wait to make that point, Mr Robinson.

Gentlemen, thank you for your attendance. Apologies for keeping you late. Your messages on 20 mph zones, bus lanes, cameras and on-street parking have been received and will be raised with the Department. I am sure that members will do that when we meet them shortly. Mr McElroy, I want to provide you and your members with reassurance about the York Street interchange. The position today is somewhat different from the position a month ago. The Committee has been very vocal in asking questions and writing to the Department and the Minister and so on. It is absolutely imperative that we get clarity on the position, and I think that we are starting to get that, if we have not already got there.

The date 15 November was always one that I remembered for political reasons; now I will remember it as the date that I sat in the most awful traffic congestion that I have ever witnessed, when I was trying to get home from Stormont to get out to the Northern Ireland game at Windsor Park. The difficulty was that we had the football match, a snooker competition and a Rod Stewart concert. I raised the matter the next day in Committee, and I have written to the Chief Constable to ask exactly what the role of the police is in these situations, because the police were non-existent and invisible. That simply is not good enough. I drove past Musgrave Street police station. There was not a policeman in sight on Victoria Street, Oxford Street or any other junction. We have taken those issues up. At the height of the Troubles, you saw the police out on the streets. It is not acceptable to the Committee that they are not visible when we face such congestion. I wanted to reassure you about that.

Finally, I moved a motion in the House on car parking a number of weeks ago. Sadly, it did not enjoy majority support in the House, but you may well have read about it in the media.

Mr McElroy: Thank you.

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