Belfast City Council is the latest local authority to consider implementing school streets.
Aside from the safety benefits of temporarily closing off roads outside schools to traffic, the schemes also improve the air quality in these areas and promote walking and cycling.
A motion calling for the implementation of a pilot School Street project has been tabled to go before BCC’s Standards and Business Committee later this week, reports the Belfast Telegraph.
Tabled by SDLP councillor Seamus de Faoite, the motion reads: “This council notes that the ‘School Street’ schemes in the Republic of Ireland and GB, which close the roads outside schools during drop-off and pick-up times, have the multiple benefits of improving road safety for pupils, encouraging active travel to school by walking, cycling and public transport, and improving the air quality around schools.”
But it also “recognises that we do not have the statutory powers to introduce such a scheme in Belfast, either in pilot or permanent form” and so the motion “calls upon the Department for Infrastructure to bring forward urgently a School Street pilot project in Belfast, identifying a number of pilot schools across the City”.
It states that working groups should agree on a number of schools in each area to recommend to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) as part of a pilot scheme and urges the further exploration of measures “to develop School Streets and support measures to cut vehicle emissions and pollution in the vicinity of schools”.
These would include “enforceable No-Idling Zones, air quality measuring and tree planting as part of the one million trees initiative”.
In response, the Department for Infrastructure said it is “researching this area and has been liaising with contacts in England, Scotland and Wales with a view to developing a ‘School Street’ policy for Northern Ireland”.
“Once the policy has been developed the Department would seek to identify suitable pilot schools for a scheme,” it said.
Mr de Faoite called for more action from DfI on the issue.
“We’ve offered the support of Fingal County Council to the Department for Infrastructure on a number of occasions since 2020 to develop a School Street policy for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We’ve even worked with local schools like Holy Rosary Primary to propose potential pilot schemes. All we have received from the department’s officials has been dither and delay. They refused to meet with the engineers from Fingal County Council. That is unacceptable.”
His SDLP colleague, councillor Gary McKeown, added: “If the Department for Infrastructure is serious about wanting kids to walk, cycle and scoot to school, then it needs a move beyond the rhetoric and actually deliver.
“School Street is a prime example of a scheme that has been proven to work elsewhere on these islands.
“There’s no reason why pilots can’t be rolled out here in locations that will work for pupils, nearby residents and the wider community.”