Councillors were at loggerheads on Monday night over a draft proposal document aimed at improving the night-time economy across the Borough.
The widely accepted draft paper included contentious plans to pedestrianise Market Street in Armagh between 6pm and 6am.
While some elected representatives wanted the Borough-wide action plan to go-ahead unamended, several others demanded that a draft proposal to ban cars on the city’s main trading street, be scrapped altogether.
A considerable debate ensued at Monday’s monthly meeting with the draft being sent back for reconsideration.
The issue garnered a sizeable reaction when Armagh I first revealed the proposals last week.
Six action plans had been presented to the economy meeting for the urban centres in the borough. These were considered, with question marks raised over Armagh and Banbridge.
Local businesses in Armagh said they had not even been informed that such a suggestion had been made never mind gone before council for discussion.
— Armagh I (@ArmaghI) October 25, 2017
SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon, who pushed on the proposal to be scrapped, said: “When the proposal was put to councillors at the economic development committee for the trial pedestrianisation of Market Street in Armagh, I rejected it out of hand. However, councillors from other parties sought to adopt the report as presented.
“At Monday night’s monthly meeting I again raised the issue and, after a long protracted debate, the draft report was sent back to committee for reconsideration.
“I have no problem if access is restricted to Market Street when there is an event being held in it, as it is during the St Patrick’s Day or Georgian Day celebrations. But that’s not what was proposed in the paper presented to councillors nor was it what was going to be consulted on.
“During the debate at council every party accepted my argument that this proposal would never fly, that it would not be accepted by the public.
“However, some councillors – including Armagh City representatives – were content that it should be pushed through and consulted on.
“I cannot understand why you would produce a paper and put it out for public consultation, cause acrimony and anger if you never actually believe what you are consulting on will ever actually happen. It’s madness.
“After a long debate at council the paper was sent back to the economic development committee for reconsideration.
“The section around Market Street is to be redrafted and I hope it will include proposals to increase events held in Market Street, to make use of the bandstand and the whole area as a natural open-air event space.
“This will drive our night-time economy and encourage people into town. This is what the strategy should be about, not banning people from coming into town.
“Over recent years we have seen many improvements in our night-time economy, including restaurants, coffee shops to bars.
“It’s a credit to those who have invested in and continue to grow their businesses, not just in Market Street but right down to the Shambles as well.
“The city centre has developed into a place with a wide offering for food and drink and I feared that banning vehicular traffic from the city centre at night would have set back that progress.
“At present, if you go into the city at night, there is a lot of traffic about, but that gives a sense of being busy and a thriving night-time economy. If you were to ban all vehicles it could become eerie and unwelcoming.
“I welcome the decision to send the proposal back to the economic development committee and look forward to redrafted proposals in relation to Market Street.”
Art O’Hagan of the Armagh City Centre Management Team believes there is justification for pedestrianising the street – on occasions.
“It would be a good idea to close the street for a few hours on a Friday and Saturday night during the summer months,” he told Armagh I. “But only if there is an event in Market Street.”
He added: “If it supplements footfall and helps assist evening economy, as opposed to being detrimental to trade, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”