A20 Newtownards southern relief road


Construction scheme (completed)
Construction of a new bypass round the south of the town connecting the main A20 (Belfast road) to the A21 Comber Road and on to the A20 Portaferry Road.
Total Length
2.7km / 1.8 miles

Scheme proposed for many years.

Funding announced 27 June 2005.

Construction originally due to begin late 2006.

Work officially began 2 April 2008 and due to last 52 weeks.

Road opened to traffic 30 July 2009.

Most works completed by mid September 2009 (5 months behind schedule).


Varies from £7m to £20.5m depending on which DRD statement you read.

See note on costs below.

Partly funded by private developer of Castlebawn Retail Park.

Photos / Map
See below
See Also

General area map

Castlebawn web site, including map of eastern part of route.

See below for map of western part of route.
Frederick Street Link on this site.

Anyone who has tried to travel though Newtownards will know that it suffers from chronic traffic congestion due to the fact that the only route into and out of the town from the south is along the Comber Road. This leads to tailbacks of over a mile every evening for commuters trying to get into the town, catching through traffic in its midst.

This much anticipated scheme will see a new road built as an extension from Blair Mayne Road South with a new roundabout at the Scrabo Road, then south parallel but south of Jubilee Road and join the Comber Road at a new roundabout. The road will then run from here to terminate on Portaferry Road. Another roundabout close to the airport will give access to the new Castlebawn retail park. This project is being partly funded by the developers of the Castlebawn site. It will include a 13-metre single span bridge across the canal. The contract also includes the widening of Comber Road between the new roundabout and the existing Circular Road (ie past Jubilee Road, Lidl etc).

The scheme has been controversial: firstly, it will involve the removal of the former railway embankment which the Roads Service described as an "eyesore" but which is valued by local residents as a haven for wildlife. There is dispute over whether badgers live here. Also, it will run very close to some houses on Trasnagh Drive. Roads Service have proposed various sound barriers, but a local meeting that I attended revealed much acrimony from residents. The roundabout at Scrabo Road was an addition to the original plan, and may have been to placate these residents.

Access to Jubilee Road will remain by traffic lights onto Comber Road. There are no plans to open up a western access. Residents of the Westwinds estate will benefit from a pedestrian crossing close to the estate, giving access across the road to Jubilee Road.


I blogged about the history of this scheme going way back to the 1970s here.

Note on Costs

The cost of this scheme is very uncertain. In an assembly written answer on 1 Feb 2008 Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy stated that "the total cost of the scheme is £20.5 million, of which Roads Service will contribute £2.5million." We can assume from this that £18m is being contributed by the private developer, presumably the Castlebawn developer. However in this press statement 8 weeks later, Conor Murphy says "It is anticipated that work on this 2.7km scheme to link Portaferry Road, Comber Road and Belfast Road will take approximately 12 months to complete with a construction cost of £7million". Clearly it refers to the same project, but no clue is given to explain the wildly varying costs between the two statements. This press release, by the owners of the planned Castlebawn Retail Park on 2 April 2008, gives the cost as "£8million" with their contribution being "almost £5million". Sure enough, in an Assembly written answer given in March 2009, the joke was continued with the cost this time given as "£14 million"! And when the road finally opened to traffic in July 2009, the cost had reverted back to £7million.


12 Oct 2009: To cap off the project, below is a nice aerial shot taken about a week ago looking west along the scheme. With thanks to Gareth Hutchinson. The severe traffic congestion that the new road has created for traffic leaving the town along Comber Road is still as bad as it was when the scheme is first open, and this may well be a problem that needs to be addressed in the months to come. Many vehicles are simply unable to enter the roundabout due to the sheer volume of traffic using the new A20 Southern Distributor, leading to long queues backing up towards the town centre.

Looking west along the scheme on 4 Oct 2009, showing the Castlebawn Roundabout
(foreground) and the Comber Road Roundabout (beyond). [Gareth Hutchinson]

24 Sep 2009: Work progressed well during early September with all of the major outstanding works to pavements etc completed by the middle of the month. The only significant outstanding work now is on Comber Road, but the work is now at a point where we can say that the scheme is now largely "completed". At project commencement the scheme was to have been completed by early April, so this makes the completion around 5 months behind schedule. Pictures 1 and 2 below show the new road. Picture 2 shows the remarkable low-level street lights that have been installed at the end of the runway of Newtownards airport, which are even equipped with aircraft warning lights! Picture 3 shows the completion works underway on Comber Road. The opening of the new road has beneffited many people, and reduced journey times, but is still causing quite noticeable congestion on Comber Road, particularly leaving the town in the evening. The constant, and fast, stream of vehicles coming from the new link road means that it is very hard to get onto the roundabout, leading to traffic queueing back along South Street and encouraging motorists to take risks entering the roundabout.

Pic 1: The completed Southern Distributor, here seen looking east towards
Portaferry Road roundabout on 16 Sep 2009. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 2: These special low-level street lights at the end of the airport runway are
about half the height of normal lights. Seen on 16 Sep 2009. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 3: Work on Comber Road still underway on 16 Sep 2009. [Wesley Johnston]

2 Sep 2009: Work has progressed well over the past three weeks, with the western part of the scheme now virtually completed. However there is still a fair bit of work to be done on the eastern part of the scheme, where the pavements are far from complete and pedestrians have to negotiate an obstacle course of holes, ditches piles of materials, and cones/pipes - wheelchair users, for example would find it impossible to use this part of the road. Over half of the signage is now in place. The re-construction of Comber Road between the new Comber Road roundabout and Circular Road is well advanced, but the final lane layout has not been marked out and the traffic lights at Jubilee Road have yet to be installed. Look out for the remarkable "low" street lights at the Castlebawn Roundabout, which are only about 5 metres high due to the proximity of the Newtownards Airport runway. Some even have red warning lights on top! It looks as if work will be substantially completed within the next couple of weeks.

10 August 2009: Despite Roads Service inexplicably declaring the project "completed" at the end of July, work has continued apace over the past two weeks on what is very obviously an ongoing project. The footpaths on the western stretch of the road are now completed, although traffic is regularly held up by construction vehicles stopping in the carriageway to carry out electrical and other works. The eastern stretch is less completed, with just the foundations of the footpath on the town side now in place. It looks as if these may be completed within the next week or two. Work is also underway on Comber Road to tie in the new roundabout, with all the kerbing now in place. The final surface has yet to go down. Workers are also digging foundations at the end of Jubilee Road which will, in the coming week or two, allow the temporary roundabout here to be removed and the traffic lights re-installed. Work to tie in the new roundabout on Portaferry Road is still uncompleted, and a number of direction signs have yet to be installed. At this stage, it looks likely that the project will be completed by the end of August.

Since traffic was allowed onto the road ten days ago, intitial reports have been very positive with people reporting much faster journeys, and reduced stress. However, some people have also reported problems, particuarly with serious congestion heading out of the town on Comber Road in the evening rush hour, seemingly due to the fact that drivers find it hard to get onto the roundabout due to the constant stream of drivers on the new link road. There is also some confusion on lane markings, most notably on the Castlebawn Roundabout where, coming from the Belfast side, it is very unclear whether continuing to Portaferry counts as "turning right" or going "straight on". This is because there are four exits on the roundabout, only two of which are open, and going "straight on" actually involves taking the last exit, and so could be seen as "turning right". Some drivers have also reported confusion on the correct use of the right-turn lane at the Scrabo Road roundabout when coming from the Belfast direction, which has the same issue as the Castlebawn roundabout.

30 July 2009: Unexpectedly the road was officially opened to traffic today, by the Permanent Secretary of the DRD, Paul Priestly. As of 1pm today just the western stretch (from Scrabo Road to Comber Road) was open, although it looks likely that the eastern stretch extending it to Portaferry Road will open imminently too. The new road is of a very high standard, with a 40mph speed limit and will provide much needed relief to travellers going to/from the Ards Peninsula as well as traffic heading from eastern Newtownards to Comber and Belfast. The western stretch of the new road has been named Messines Road by Ards Borough Council, while they have named the eastern stretch Castlebawn Road after the proposed retail park due to be built nearby. Mr Priestly said "The Department has worked closely with colleagues in NI Water to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the construction of the new road to considerably enhance the water and sewerage infrastructure in the area. Although this additional work has meant the completion of the road has taken three months longer than initially anticipated, there have been significant savings to the public purse as a result." This comment explains why the road did not open in April as had been expected.

However, it is a bit of a stretch in my view to claim that the road is now completed. With all road schemes there is inevitably additional work to be done after opening. However, in the case of this road the outstanding work is fairly substantial: there is still work to be done on pavements (surfacing, tactile paving etc), while the work to tie the new Comber Road roundabout in to Comber Road still has a fair bit of work to do since the reconstruction of the road still has to be completed, and the pavements completed here. Indeed, when driving down the road this lunch time there were lorries parked on the "open" road continuing to carry out work. It is my guess that there are still a few weeks' of work yet to do before the project can be said to be completed. Mr Priestly also gave the cost this time as "£7 million": a completely meaningless figure as it is just one of six different figures that have been quoted over the past year and a half (see previous section).

27 July 2009: No work whatsoever has been carried out over the past fortnight, due to the well known July "builder's fortnight". Work resumed this morning. The western stretch (Belfast road to Comber Road) is almost complete, with just some pavement surfacing and street furniture to complete. This stretch could be finished within days. The eastern stretch (Comber Road to Portaferry Road) is a little further back with some road surfacing, markings and street lighting yet to be completed. It therefore now seems unlikely that the whole road will be completed by the end of the month, as predicted by the Minister at the start of June.

The almost-completed A20 marked out and ready to go. Seen at the pedestrian crossing leading to the Westwinds estate (on the right) on 20 July 2009. [Wesley Johnston]

The terminus of the new road on the new roundabout on the Portaferry Road nearing completion on 24 July 2009. The line of the old road can be seen on the left. [Paul McIlfatrick]

12 July 2009: The Comber Road roundabout (the central one on the scheme) finally opened to traffic during the past week. The new road itself is very nearly completed, with traffic signals, street lamp heads and white lines all added recently. Completion is scheduled to take place by the end of the month, and this certainly looks achievable from what we can see on the ground. Pedestrians and cyclists are already using the new road, as the contractors don't seem to make any effort to prevent them, although a line of concrete blocks placed across the road prevents vehicles from doing so.

23 June 2009: Site visitor Paul McIlfatrick took a series of photos of the works six days ago, four of which I include below. Work is currently underway to tie the new road in to the existing Comber Road, while works at the Scrabo Road (western) end are completed, and works at the Portaferry Road (eastern) end are well progressed. The Minister is currently anticipating completion in mid summer, which we take to be the end of July.

Pic 1: The new Scrabo Road roundabout now open to traffic at the western end of the scheme. Taken from the new road, which is not yet open, on 17 June 2009. [Paul McIlfatrick]

Pic 2: The new road between Scrabo Road and Comber Road completed except for its final layer of surfacing. Pedestrians are already using it. 17 June 2009. [Paul McIlfatrick]

Pic 3: The new roundabout half way between Comber Road and Portaferry Road, which will eventually serve the Castlebawn development. 17 June 2009. [Paul McIlfatrick]

Pic 4: The terminus of the new road on Portaferry Road (running beside the street lights). The designs show this as as a signalised T-junction, but the plans may have changed as the layout being built looks more like a roundabout. 17 June 2009. [Paul McIlfatrick]

7 June 2009: The Comber Road roundabout is now almost completed, with just the surface still to go down. Work elsewhere is ongoing on street lighting and the footpaths. Answering a question in the Assembly, the Minister for Regional Development said that the scheme would be "substantially complete by 30 July 2009". This represents a delay of about 3 to 4 months on top of the expected timescale of 12 months advertised at project inception (which was early April 2008). This was later revised by Roads Service to "late Spring 2009".

13 May 2009: Work is now well underway on the new Comber Road roundabout (see photo below) with the western end well formed. It's not clear whether the whole road will open at once, or just the western bit, but either way the project appears to be over-running. When work began in April 2008 it was timetabled to last 12 months, which suggests we are currently a month behind schedule. Opening seems unlilkely for a number of weeks yet. (And we still have no idea how much it is costing!)

The new Comber Road roundabout taking shape on 13 May 2009. Looking south. The lamp posts indicate the line of the existing Comber Road (traffic diverted away). [Malcolm Johnston]

12 Apr 2009: Progress is good on the road, withe the stretch at the western end (Scrabo Road) now completed, and the stretch from there to Comber Road nearing completion. The stretch from Comber Road to Portaferry Road is not quite so well advanced. Work to build Comber Road roundabout itself has only just begun in earnest in the past few days, although preparatory work has been underway for some months. You can get some idea of progress from the pictures below, taken yesterday by Andrew McCullough from Scrabo Hill (an immensely convenient vantage point).

Pic 1: The western end of the new road, with the completed Scrabo Road roundabout visible (and partly open). The Ards Shopping Centre can be seen at the top, while the new road runs to the bottom right. Seen on 11 April 2009. [Andrew McCullough]

Pic 2: The central and eastern end of the scheme, with Comber Road running left to right just above the centre. The road can be seen snaking from the bottom left to the Portaferry Road in the distance. A new pelican crossing is taking shape at the bottom of this shot. Seen on 11 April 2009. [Andrew McCullough]

9 Mar 2009: The estimated cost of this scheme is becoming a bit of a running joke. As explained above, the cost of the scheme has been given as several different figures since February last year. When the DRD Minister was asked for the cost in the Assembly this week, we hoped he might be able to clarify which figure was correct. However the figure he quoted this time, £14m, was different again from all previous figures! We may never know how much this scheme is costing.

2 Mar 2009: Lots of progress has been made over the past month. The new roundabout at Scrabo Road is now completed and partially open. The route from there round to Comber Road has been kerbed and the base surface has been put down on most of it. Street lighting posts are also being erected along the route. There is still no sign of the roundabout at Comber Road, however, which to date remains a circular gravel area with Comber Road running intact through the middle. So far, however, it looks as if the scheme is progressing more or less on schedule.

Looking west along the Southern Distributor from between West Winds (left) and Jubilee Road (right) on 2 March 2009. Surfacing and street lighting are both progressing. [Wesley Johnston]

31 Jan 2009: Two photos this time of the part of the scheme as it passes the West Winds Estate (between Scrabo Road and Comber Road). Most of the route now seems to have had the gravel subsurface laid down, although there is still a lot of work to be done, particuarly at the roundabout on Comber Road. Back in November Roads Service issued a leaflet about the scheme. It doesn't say anything new, but is a useful summary and contains a good map of the route.

The view east towards Comber Road from near the
West Winds Estate on 28 Jan 2009. [Wesley Johnston]

The view west as the road curves round towards Scrabo Road, from
near the West Winds estate on 28 Jan 2009. [Wesley Johnston]

14 Jan 2009: There is continuous activity on the site with activity seen at various locations on different days. Blair Mayne Road South has been closed for a number of weeks now - picture 1 shows that this is because the road is being widened and a roundabout is being built at its terminus on Scrabo Road - picture 2. Picture 3 shows the road heading south from Scrabo Road. The remainder of the road on the south side of Newtownards is also taking shape, although there is still a lot of mud around at these locations. Currently the project still seems to be on schedule for completion in "late Spring" – which may mean May 2009.

Pic 1: Blair Mayne Road South (south of the Shopping Centre roundabout)
seen on 4 Jan 2009. The road is closed here to be widened. [Paul McIlfatrick]

Pic 2: The new roundabout being built on Scrabo Road, as seen on 4 Jan 2009.
Looking out of town with Blair Mayne Road South to the right. [Paul McIlfatrick]

Looking south along the formation of the new road as

seen from Scrabo Road on 4 Jan 2009. [Paul McIlfatrick]

10 Nov 2008: Work is continuing to advance, with the road base in place along the majority of the route. The cutting at the western end is excavated, while works to build up the boggy round beside the Westwinds estate is advancing well. Work on the new roundabout where the new road crosses Comber Road is now underway with the foundations of the roundabout clearly evident. Roads Service are now anticipating that work will be "substantially complete by late Spring 2009".

14 Sep 2008: Work is advancing well, with the road base being actively laid on the western part of the scheme, to match the work already being carried out on the eastern part. Work on the new roundabout at Comber Road is also underway. The temporary road and roundabout at Jubilee Road seems to be performing quite well, with traffic apparently flowing much better in the area than it did with the normal traffic lights! The picture below shows the new road seen in early September 2008.

The new road taking shape as seen from Scrabo Hill on 8 Sep 2008. [Norman Johnston]

1 Aug 2008: The temporary road that will carry Comber Road past the site of the new roundabout opened at 10am on Wednesday (30th). This temporary road features a temporary roundabout to retain access to Jubilee Road. However this is NOT the final roundabout which will be about 200 metres further out of town. Little or no work happened on the site during July, but has started again in the past week. The earthworks (cuttings and embankments) for the whole road now seem largely completed with drains also installed in places.

15 Jun 2008: Work continues to progress well. A temporary road is under construction that looks like it will carry Comber Road a few dozen metres to one side while the new roundabout is built. An excellent overview can be found from this photo taken by site visitor Steve Grieve (thanks!) taken in the first half of June 2008:

The new road works seen from Scrabo Hill in early June 2008. Comber Road runs left to right in the centre of this picture, with the town centre off to the left. [Steve Grieve]

18 May 2008: Topsoil clearance is well advanced, as is the process of clearing land vested for the scheme. Picture 1 shows the Hughes Insurance building - they are set to lose over half of their front garden but will benefit from having a building that will dominate the completed roundabout. Picture 2 shows the path of the new road heading towards Portaferry Road, seen from Comber Road. No actual construction has yet begun.

Pic 1: Hughes Insurance building seen from Comber Road on 18 May 2008. They are set to lose much of their front garden to make way for the new roundabout here. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 2: The path of the new road cleared of vegetation heading east towards Portaferry Road. Seen from Comber Road on 18 May 2008. [Wesley Johnston]

Update on 24 Apr 2008: Topsoil clearance work is now well underway on the route, initially on the eastern end between Comber Road and Portaferry Road. However more bore holes are being drilled on the route between Comber Road and Belfast Road and topsoil clearance has begun here too. A press release on the Castlebawn web site dated 2 April 2008 adds more confusion to the murky question of how much this scheme is costing. They claim that the scheme costs £8m, of which Castlebawn is contributing "almost £5m". This is at odds with both of Conor Murphy's variant statements on the cost of the scheme. Castlebawn claim that work will begin on the retail park as soon as the new road opens.

Update on 2 Apr 2008: Work officially began on the project today with an official "sod cutting" ceremony led by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy. Prior indications have been that work will begin first at the Portaferry Road end with the work at the Belfast end taking place later. However, the press statement makes it clear that this work is for the whole proposed road.

Update on 5 Feb 2008: In this parliamentary written answer on 1 Feb, Roads Service are saying that work will begin in March/April 2008. The cost was given as £20.5m of which Roads Service will contribute £2.5m. The cost stated on this page up until now (£3m) has obviously been the public contribution, not the whole cost.

Update on 11 Dec 2007: No work has yet begun, and in a parliamentary written answer on 7 Dec Roads Service are now saying that work is likely to begin "early next year" and last "approximately 12 months".

Update on 27 Sep 2007: From a helpful response to an e-mailed question, Roads Service are now saying that the contract is likely to be awared in November 2007, with work to proceed in two phases, and to be completed by "late 2008". The section from Comber Road to Portaferry Road is due to commence first, with the section from Comber Road to Blair Mayne Road South to proceed later. Tenders were returned on 13 September 2007.

Update on 14 Dec 2006: Speaking to a Roads Service employee at the Frederick Street Link public inquiry I discovered that planning permission has been granted for the Comber Road - Portaferry Road section, but not yet the Blair Mayne Road to Comber Road section. He also said that the first of these two is being funded privately, with the second publicly. Since the project must proceed at one time, construction is now timetabled for Summer 2007 and will last approximately one year.

Update on 9 Nov 2006: I telephoned the Roads Service today and they told me that while the project was to have begun in "late 2006" it has now been pushed back to "Spring 2007". They said that the scheme was currently in the "advance design" stage.


This map of the western portion was given out to the public at a Roads Service public meeting in summer 2005. It was stressed at the meeting that it was still a draft. The first map shows the route from the roundabout at the Ards Shopping Centre with the Blair Mayne Road below. Then the new road is shown curving round to the south east. The second map continues eastwards below Jubilee Road to join the Comber Road.


Newtownards seen from Scrabo Hill. The new road will run from the Blair Mayne Road South (seen on very left, grey road going vertically). It will follow the line of trees in front of the houses and past the test centre on the right. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

Newtownards seen from Scrabo Hill. The new road will run through the blank area of land between the factories of Jubilee Road and the West Winds estate on the right. It will join Comber Road at a new roundabout beside where the large factory is. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]


The view of the waste ground seen in the previous photo but from ground level. In a few years, this will be full of vehicles travelling on the new link road. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]