Today RSUA President Donal MacRandal and RSUA Director Ciarán Fox met Minister for Infrastructure to discuss a range of ideas and proposals to improve the built environment in Northern Ireland. RSUA started by thanking the Minister for her work in difficult circumstances and tabled constructive suggestions on how to improve the planning system, signalling change, noting the initial steps and the need to reduce carbon emissions from travel, improve air quality, revitalise town centres and green the urban environment. The Minister confirmed her support for the #OurChangedPlaceNI initiative.
1. Engaging the wider community in their built environment
RSUA briefed the Minister on the Place Committee and OurChangedPlaceNI initiative and highlighted the need to ensure communities are given the tools to talk about their built environment. It was suggested that architects could be embedded in community groups to make sure their voice is heard.
2. Preparing for increased return to work
As lockdown measures are lifted and restrictions ease, RSUA expressed concern that car traffic could be worse than ever due to reservations about using public transport. One solution might be to make alternatives more attractive (even if this means making car travel less attractive than it currently is). Protected routes into cities and town need to be provided and park and cycle was suggested as a compliment to park and ride. Park and cycle, provided secure cycle facilities were available, could help increase take-up. RSUA also suggested that capacity for train and cycle were increased.
3. Preparing for school return
With the formal school year coming to an end, RSUA sees an opportunity to make changes over July/August to the physical environment to avoid a return to significant car traffic. Currently too few children cycle to school and an opportunity also exists to create cycle priority streets with no through traffic and protected cycle lanes elsewhere. RSUA and ARUP are developing a school mobility index which hopes to complete initial work by August before providing a more comprehensive evidence base for school year 2021.
4. Streets for people
RSUA called for the Manual for Streets to be immediately adopted here and sought an update on the Streets Ahead project, noting that more walking and cycling is likely to focus interest in the quality of the built environment around people rather than cars.
5. Major infrastructure
RSUA also raised some critical infrastructure projects, such as the York Street Interchange project, and the Belfast to Dublin railway line. The design of the urban realm was also discussed as critically important and RSUA stressed the need to appoint on the basis of design and to fix the fee to get best value for society.
RSUA agreed to continue to engage with the Department and the Minister over the coming period to seek opportunities to improve the built environment across Northern Ireland.