Nothing winds me up more than politicians working on aesthetic projects that cost taxpayers significant amounts of money. I would happily conclude in the best of times that it is a waste of money. Imagine such a back-slapping project in the midst of a national budget crisis when school budgets aren’t covering necessities for pupils, people are languishing on waiting lists for operations and the country needs severe infrastructure investment. At best politicians in charge of these projects are rampant narcissists too idiotic to realise such projects are detrimental to the bigger picture. At worst, they are deliberately wasting money and abusing their power.
If I am being completely honest Banbridge is a great town but it has the potential to be better. Local politicians seemingly share this view with me considering the “Banbridge Town Centre Public Realm Scheme”. There is plenty of “improvement” that covers aesthetic for footpaths and street lighting as well as enhanced connectivity between existing parking spaces and streets. Yet when everything is considered the project falls well short of delivering the substantial change necessary to prepare the town for the future.
There are major problems facing Northern Ireland and town improvements could go some distance to tackling them. The most pressing issue is health. Sedentary lifestyles are unnecessarily increasing the pressure on a public health service that cannot cope. So why not emphasise walking or cycling through the town instead of driving. Introduce a pedestrianised high street and implement cycle lanes throughout the town and connecting roads. This would encourage people to get the minimum recommended amount of exercise a week as per NHS guidelines. Moreover, since there would potentially be less driving through the town there would be a positive impact on the environment. Before the idea is rejected as nonsense consider that many towns throughout the world have pedestrianised high streets. There is a retail apocalypse affecting high-streets globally with the advent of e-commerce and economic conditions have a greater impact on footfall. Rather than simply “nipping into the shop” because it is there conditions dictate whether an individual can do that in the first place. Do not dismiss this idea with outdated and overly simplified arguments because that is not how these things work. Any improvements or restructuring must address the problem while providing a multi-faceted solution to maximise the impact of public expenditure.
Banbridge could be so much more and the myopic project forwarded by the ABC council is restraining Banbridge from fulfilling its potential and leading the charge against the issues we face as a country.