A55 Outer Ring at Knock - widening
Status
Construction scheme (future)
Where
To widen the A55 at Knock from 2-lane to 4-lane standard.
Total Length
1.3 km / 0.8 miles
Dates

Included in Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan in January 2005

Statutory procedures commenced early 2006

First public consultation June 2006

Selected construction option published 15 May 2007

Environmental Statement released / information day held - Nov 2009

Public Inquiry - 8 Nov 2010 @ 10.30am in Park Avenue Hotel, Belfast

Inspector's Report and Departmental Statement published 19 Sep 2012

Construction unlikely before 2015 at earliest (as of Sep 2012).

(Changed from "construction by 2013" as of April 2008).

Works to take "up to 18 months" (as of Nov 2009)

Cost

£12-16m as of April 2010

(changed from £9.7m)

Photos
See below
See Also

General area map
Detailed map of proposals - DRD, correct as of Sep 2012
Roads Service leaflet on the scheme
A55 Outer Ring on this site
A55 Monagh Bypass on this site

The A55 is a patchwork ring road running from the Antrim Road in north Belfast and around the west, south and east of the city to the A2 Sydenham Bypass. It is partly made up of existing streets, and partly purpose-built roads. Although most of the western part is single-carriageway, the A55 in east Belfast is entirely 4-lane except for a short stretch at Knock where it is constricted by existing housing and a steep hill. This area is well known for being ambiguous to drivers - the road is about 1.5 lanes wide on each side so it is unclear whether it is allowable to drive side-by-side here. This stretch currently carries approximately 40,000 vehicles per day.

This scheme will see the route widened to 4-lane single-carriageway standard, provide right-turn pockets and widened pavements and cycleways. Originally the scope of the project was to have been the 700 metre stretch between Kings Road and Sandown Road. However, when the option chosen was published in May 2007, the scope of the scheme had been extended further south to Glen Road, a total of 1.3 km. This new stretch contains at least two right turns where turning vehicles currently block the overtaking lane. This extension has raised the estimated cost from about £7m to almost £10m.

All the widening will take place on the country side. Roads Service have purchased all the properties along this side over the past 20 years and have either demolished or rented them. So there should be few compulsory purchases of land, and none of buildings.

Updates

19 Sep 2012: Almost two years after the Public Inquiry, the Inspector's Report and the Departmental Statement (Roads Service's response) have finally been published, along with a detailed map of the scheme (despite the Minister's suggestion in April that they would be released last Spring - see previous update). One reason for the delay might be that Roads Service don't come out looking all that great.

Although the Inspector ruled that the scheme is needed and justified, and recommended that it proceed, he made a number of criticisms. In particular, he was very critical of the public consultation exercise, saying "much of the consultation undertaken for this scheme has been ineffective [suggesting] that sufficient effort was not given at an early stage to ensuring that all those residents who could be affected by the scheme were alerted to the details of the proposals", and that some of the material produced "lacks sufficient detail to enable lay persons to understand and accept the results". The Inspector also judged that some of the traffic data used was "flawed" and, as a result, the Environmental Statement "would not appear to meet the provisions of Articles 67A and 130 of the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993", and recommended that a new one be produced. In terms of design, he recommended a wider hard shoulder on the north side to allow safer access to driveways, and an assessment of further improvements to the Newtownards Road and King's Road junctions on the A55 to discourage "rat-running" through roads like Cherryvalley. He also recommended two link roads to allow right-turning traffic to use the Shandon Park junction rather than uncontrolled 'Give Way' junctions - called the Ascot Park Link and Kingsden Link. Finally, he recommended that "future road schemes should be progressed by working more closely in partnership with the community".

Roads Service today published their Departmental Statement. In it they explain that, in response to the criticism of their traffic data, they have constructed a more detailed traffic model. This indicated that the scheme would produce less impact in some key areas (air pollution and noise/vibration) than the Environmental Statement assumed. As it is their judgement that the flawed traffic data actually resulted in exaggerated impacts, they do not believe it is necessary to publish a new Environmental Statement. Roads Service accept the recommendations for a wider area on the north side, and the construction of Ascot Park Link and Kingsden link (visible on the map). As for improvements to the Newtownards Road and King's Road junctions on the A55, Roads Service explain that they feel no further improvements are possible without adding flyovers. Finally, while DRD state that they accept the criticism about lack of communication, they go on to note that they are "content that Roads Service and its consultants carried out proportionate effort consultation on this project", which is rather ambiguous.

From a timescale point of view, the most telling thing is that the DRD has decided not to publish the Vesting Order (needed to acquire the land required) just now, due to "budgetary constraints". As land acquisition can take some months after the publication of a Vesting Order, the only reason they would not want to publish one is if there was no prospect of proceeding to construction in the foreseeable future. Given that this scheme has been proposed in some form for the past 43 years, this does not change much. However, the real reason is that schemes like the A5, A8 and A2 Greenisland are using all the available budget for the next 4 years.

6 April 2012: The Minister was asked for an update on this scheme two weeks ago in an Assembly Written Answer. He indicated that Roads Service has now had the Inspector's Report (ie the independent inspector's recommendations after the Public Inquiry) for over a year. He explains the delay by noting that "The report recommended that further detailed consideration be given to some engineering issues, however, this involved traffic surveys which could only be carried out during autumn 2011. Analysis of the information is now nearing completion." He went on to say that the publication schedule is unchanged from last summer, ie that the Inspector's Report and Departmental Statement will be published "in spring 2012". That seems to mean any time in the next 8 weeks.

23 July 2011: The Public Inquiry did take place on 8 November 2010, and Roads Service are now saying on their web site that the Inspector's Report (ie, the outcome of the Inquiry) and the Departmental Statement (ie how Roads Service plan to address the recommendations made in the Inspector's Report) will be published "early in 2012". These will both be automatically sent to anyone who objected to the proposals or otherwise appeared at the Inquiry.

11 September 2010: Roads Service have announced that the long-awaited Public Inquiry into this scheme will begin at 10.30am on 8 November 2010 at the Park Avenue Hotel, 158 Holywood Road, Belfast. The Inspector will be Professor A E Long, former Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Queen's University. The Public Inquiry will not only look at the scheme itself, but also the Environmental Impact statement, the compulsory purchase order (to get the land needed) and proposals to modify some of the side roads that join the Outer Ring here. The relevant documents can be accessed here. I would encourage all those with an interest to turn up, as the Public Inquiry is a key democratic event for the public to get their views across.

21 April 2010: Roads Service have updated the costs on their web site. This is now giving a cost of £12m to £16m for this scheme, which is higher than the £9.7m being quoted until now (and, incidentally, still being quoted on a different page on the same site).

1 March 2010: The Regional Development Minister today announced that a public inquiry into these proposals will be convened in autumn 2010. This is not really surprising, as this scheme affects so many residents nearby that it was bound to be controversial. In the event, over 100 objections have been received. Roads Service have already conducted an in-depth analysis of a number of proposals made by a local residents group, most of which Roads Service reject. This document, along with several others dealing with issues of access off the A55, are now available online here. The public inquiry will be held this coming autumn, the actual start date being announced closer to the time.

22 November 2009: Roads Service published the Environmental Statement on 11th Nov (summary, including maps of the design, accessible here). The design is shows a widening to 4-lane single-carriageway standard, with all the widening on the eastern (out of town) side. There will be a central hatched area to allow right-turn lanes. There will be a reduction in local accesses, notably Ascot Park which will be accessible via a new link road connecting it to Shandon Park. The houses lining the western side will still open directly onto the Outer Ring, however, but will be given better sight lines by a widened pavement and cycle lane. Public information days were held on 18 and 19 November, but as these were only publicised on the Roads Service web site a day or so beforehand, there was no opportunity to let site visitors know. Construction still seems a long way off: financial uncertainties mean Roads Service is only able to say that completion is due "between 2013 and 2018".

2 November 2009: In their report to Belfast City Council, Roads Service said that the publication of the Environmental Statement, Notice of Intention to make a Direction Order and Notice of Intention to make a Vesting Order are due to be published "for public comment towards the end of 2009", so hopefully within the next couple of months. The press release notes that this may be followed by a public inquiry, an outcome which seems very likely. Construction remains on the long finger.

6 July 2009: In their report to Castlereagh Borough Council at the end of June 2009, Roads Service said that they were continuing to work on the design and environmental statement for the scheme, and confirmed what they said last December which is that these, plus the direction order and vesting order, are due to be published "in 2009". However, they also confirmed that commencement of this project remains on the long finger, with construction anticipated between 2013/14 and 2017/18.

16 December 2008: Last month, Roads Service issued a leaflet outlining the current position on this scheme. It doesn't really say anything new, but provides a useful summary of the scheme. It does say that the design, environmental statement, direction order and vesting order are to be published "in 2009" at which point there will be another formal public consultation.

5 November 2008: According to the report given to Castlereagh Borough Council last week, the timescale for construction of the scheme has slipped further. It states that "The Investment
Delivery Plan for Roads, which was published earlier this year, identified this scheme for delivery
during the period 2013/14 to 2017/18"
, ie within 5-10 years. This statement, however, is not true. Page 9 of the 2008 Investment Delivery Plan For Roads clearly includes this scheme in a list titled "Preparation Pool" below a statement saying "The preparation pool contains schemes that are expected to start within the next five years subject to satisfactory completion of the necessary statutory procedures and the level of funding available at that time". The scheme is also included in a table on page 21 of the document, but no timescale is given in this table. It is unclear why the scheme has been delayed further, or why the report gave this inaccurate statement to Castlereagh Borough Council. However, the delay is likely a result of limited finance. Since a delay in this scheme will not cause major traffic problems, it is understandable that it is is one of those that will slip.

28 April 2008: We have been expecting work on this scheme to commence in the period 2008/09. However, the strategy document "Investment Delivery Strategy for Roads" in April 2008 gave a more vague timescale of "within the next five years". The fact that a number of other schemes have more definite dates within this timescale implies that the commencement date for this scheme is more uncertain than previously believed.

Original Options

My attendance at the public consultation on 7-8 June 2006 revealed that the Roads Service were attempting to choose from three options:

Option 1 - Single carriageway with 4 lanes - cost £4.5m

This option would see the road widened slightly on the out-of-town side to accommodate 4 lanes of traffic, instead of the existing 2, between King's Road and Sandown Road. It would also see the pavement on the city side widened slightly to accommodate a cycle lane. This option is cheapest, but would not eliminate the problem of vehicles turning right blocking traffic in the central lanes. The map of this option is no longer available online.

Option 2 - Single carriageway with 4 lanes and right-turn pockets - cost £7.0m

This option is the same as above, except that the road would be widened even further on the country-side to accommodate a hatched area between the two sets of lanes. Unlike the above option, this would extend further, from King's Road to the start of the existing dual-carriageway. This area would incorporate right-turn pockets for vehicles wishing to turn off. Apparently the wider pavement on the city-side would also improve safety for those whose driveways come out directly onto the Outer Ring here.

Option 3 - Dual-carriageway with new local access roads - cost £10.5m

This plan was being presented as "this is what we could do" rather than the one that is being pushed. It would see the road widened considerably on the out-of-town side and shifted eastwards. The road would become a dual-carriageway with traffic lights at Sandown Road, and a new set of traffic lights at Cherryvalley. Under this scheme, the road giving direct access into Richill would be closed - residents would use the northern access onto Sandown Road instead. All houses facing onto the Outer Ring on the city-side as well as Knockcastle Park would be served by a new access road running parallel to the dual-carriageway joining the Outer Ring at two locations. On the south side, the direct access to Ascot Park would be closed: two houses on Shandon Park would be demolished to give an alternative access here. The Roads Service apparently already owns these houses. Option C would also see the crest of the hill south of Shandon Park lowered by a couple of metres. This is not possible under option B as the access road to Ascot Park is here.

The feeling that I got at the meeting was that residents and commuters alike all favoured options B or C. Those living on the city-side prefered option C as it made accessing their houses safer and easier. Those living on the south prefered option B, although residents of Ascot Park seemed to strongly favour the idea of a new access road into their estate. Roads Service explained that this component of option C could be incorporated into option B. Generally speaking, and unlike many other schemes, there seems little acrimony from residents who are generally supportive of the scheme.

One of the plans also included a new junction on the Outer Ring just north of Cherryvalley. When I asked what it was they replied it was for the eWay to Dundonald - more evidence that this scheme is being taken seriously (the eWay is a proposed dedicated bus route along the old railway line).

In the end, Roads Service have gone with Option 2, but extended it further south to Glen Road. Whether or not the proposed access road to Ascot Park will be built is unclear.

Map

This map of the eastern part of the A55 as it was in 2005 shows the 2-lane single-carriageway section at Knock.

Photos

The two-lane section of the A55 at Knock, here seen looking north from near Kensington Road (north of Shandon Park) in July 2006. Whichever scheme is chosen, it will involve widening the road on the right side here. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

The existing four-lane single-carriageway section of the A55 looking north from Knockmount Park in July 2006. The dip ahead is the traffic light junction with Sandown Road. Under options B and C, the road would be widened here. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]