Tuesday, 7 June 2011

York Street Interchange - Blog 2 of 2

PLACE Intern Gary Potter reports on Forum for Alternative Belfast's 'Six Links' proposal for the York Street Interchange.

‘The Six Links’ is the result of Forum for Alternative Belfast’s (FAB) second summer school during August 2010. During the summer school Roads Service presented the options discussed in “York Street Interchange Blog 1 of 1” to the students. The options propose that a new York Street Interchange would connect the Westlink, M2 and M3 through a series of flyovers and underpasses. FAB were initially shocked at the potential devastating impact this would have for North Belfast which would be effectively severed from the rest of the city. They were also concerned with the potential for heavy lorries to be passing through the area at a height of 18 - 20 metres. FAB were not necessarily opposed to a roads scheme, but wanted to ensure that the scheme did not further divide the city and that the maximum potential was realised from what Mark Hackett describes as an “urban design opportunity”.

Forum for Alternative Belfast's 'Six Links'.

Mark Hackett worked with the postgraduate summer school students from the University of Ulster to analyse the Roads Service proposals and seek opportunities to improve the design. Roads Service option C, with modifications, was selected as FAB’s recommended option for York Street Interchange. The project is a reality they say, so we must work with it to improve it. With this objective the summer school quickly identified that the new York Street Interchange could have huge potential in addressing the current blight of the area. At present the routes are “bleak, traffic dominated uninhabited zones … but what if these streets were to be inhabited?” ask FAB. It is FAB’s belief that this key infrastructure project must allow, not hinder future development.

Roads Service have stated that their remit does not involve consideration for the social impact of the proposed Interchange project. Roads Service state that the options presented to the public (detailed in yesterdays blog) are roads solutions to a roads problem. FAB strongly disagrees with this approach and urges the Northern Ireland Executive to appreciate that an infrastructure project of such scale and impact should consider the social impact and urban design opportunities. FAB believe that developing the project with architectural, urban design, landscaping and community input will add to land value which in turn will add value to surrounding land and stimulate development and economic growth in one of Belfast’s most deprived areas.

On Thursday 2 June, during the DRD Roads Service two day public consultation exercise, Mark Hackett and Declan Hill of FAB presented the ‘Six Links’ project proposals. Mark explained that the Six Links has the potential to stitch the city back together and re-integrate North Belfast. Mark went on to explain how the Six Links could work with a modified version of York Street Interchange option C. As the M3, M2 and Westlink all enter the area of the Interchange at a high level it would be nearly impossible to bury everything underground as the existing road network would need to start sloping from much further back than with the current proposals. FAB therefore believes that option C is the most workable scheme for achieving best practice place making due to the adoption of sunken links, as opposed to overpasses. This creates an opportunity to contain the road network through landscaping and carefully designed buildings that create quiet courtyards. With regional traffic removed from the surrounding streets the opportunity exists for creating active pedestrian and cycle friendly links and good streets with trees, shops and housing. 

Roads Service's York Street Interchange Option C.

Option C would be further altered under the FAB proposals to include a tunnel connecting the M3 to the Westlink. This would allow for the creation of a park area bounded by the railway line, Great Georges Street, York Street and the Interchange. The park would be sheltered and defined by strong building lines enclosing the road network on three sides.

The sunken link from the M2 to the Westlink in option C would also be enclosed with buildings located right up against the road. The effect, according to FAB, would be a less dominant road network and a more live-able area.

Trees and buildings used to screen the road network.

Mark then began to explain the ideas behind each of the ‘Six Links’ and how each link could play a vital role in transforming North Belfast… 

Upper Donegall Street to Crumlin Road 

FAB believe that this link could become a significant ‘cultural corridor’ for the city. The potential from heritage and tourism has not fully been discovered in North Belfast, particularly this key route. A map of historical and listed buildings along the link was shown which really impresses upon the viewer the potential this route has to become a beautiful ‘built heritage trail’.

[Extra info: Belfast City Council sought to apply for £8.9m of EU Peace III money for the North Belfast Cultural Corridor in 2010 however this was rejected. For more information follow this link.]

Google Street View of Upper Donegall Street looking towards Crumlin Road.

Dunbar Link, Corporation Square, Titanic Quarter 

Mark and Declan both clearly believe in this aspect of the proposal and are very keen to see it through. They envisage Dunbar Link as a University Boulevard similar to University Avenue in which people are constantly moving about and crossing the road. The boulevard idea is not a new concept however and Roads Service, Belfast City Council and BMAP have a long term vision for transforming Dunbar Link into an urban boulevard. Nothing has ever materialised so it could be that the Six Links is the trigger that Dunbar Link requires. FAB believe that with the proposed new University of Ulster City Campus at York Street there is huge potential for Dunbar Link to be re-organised with wider pavements, less lanes and more large trees to create a Boulevard experience.

Dunbar Link transformed into a 'University Boulevard'.

This link would also continue into an improved and more inviting Corporation Square with a bridge linking to the front of the Odyssey complex. This bridge would tie in with similar plans for a bridge in this location mentioned in Titanic Quarter plans and the masterplans for Belfast Harbour’s ‘City Quays’ development and Odyssey Trust’s ‘Odyssey Quays’ development. The bridge would link the Odyssey and the proposed Odyssey Quay and Queens Quay projects, Titanic Quarter and East Belfast with North Belfast, the new University of Ulster campus and the Cathedral Quarter. FAB also commented that they believe the bridge should be a condition attached to the Interchange project. 

Bridge from Corporation Square to Queen's Quay as proposed
in the City Quays Masterplan. Credit: Grimshaw Architects.

Duncairn Gardens to Titanic Quarter 

This link is also vital in bringing two areas of Belfast once thought “light years away”, as Mark described, to within walking distance of each other. An improved link from Duncairn Gardens to Titanic Quarter by way of a bridge to Abercorn Quay would instantly impact on both sides of the Lagan.

Connecting to the Titanic Quarter.

Corporation Street 

The Corporation Street link is proposed to be upgraded by promoting active street frontages and celebrating historic buildings. The Street would be local again as buildings and landscaping screen the motorway network from the area. The use and feel of the road would be transformed explain FAB. 
[Extra Info: Belfast Harbour’s proposed ‘City Quays’ development which is currently seeking planning permission will border Corporation Street along much of its frontage. For more information visit]

Corporation Street.

York Street 

FAB recommends that Roads Service’s proposed bridging of York Street over the Interchange should be straight, to enable the lining of the route with buildings over the bridge to Shore Road. This would enclose the street, create active frontages and screen the road network. FAB are also keen to point out that York Street is a more important axis for the city than Dunbar Link and that current thinking should switch from Dunbar Link having priority, to York Street having priority as a key city gateway.

North Queen Street 

Here FAB propose reducing traffic speed and creating places for people. FAB envisions this street as a safe gateway to the city centre with semi mature trees planted along the route.

The Interchange area as a whole has the potential to deliver 1 million sq ft of developable land and as part of the Six Links project FAB support a long term strategic plan to deliver and control development. FAB also support the potential for selling development land with briefs attached and with input from the local community.

I’m sure you will agree that what was presented by FAB was very thought provoking material. Mark and Declan as ever are clearly enthusiastic about the Six Links, but to make it work they need the support of government who can alter the Roads Service’s brief and ensure collaboration between professions. As Mark kept emphasising, this is not merely a roads project, this is an urban design opportunity and a chance to stitch part of Belfast back together again.

For more information on the Forum for Alternative Belfast or the Six Links project:

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