COUNCILLORS have called for a meeting with Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon in an attempt to persuade her to allow tractors to use the motorway by-pass at Ballymena.
The moves comes as the Ulster Farmers’ Union is keeping up the fight for a ban on tractors using the M2 Ballymena by-pass to be lifted.
The UFU say their campaign is ‘motivated by a concern for public safety’.
Tractors are banned from motorways but the UFU says re-classifying the motorway at Ballymena to a dual-carriageway would mean they could then use it.
At the moment they say farmers are ‘forced to navigate’ onto the fast lane of the Crankill Road dual-carriageway to turn off into Ballymena to avoid using the motorway from which tractors are currently banned.
In a letter to Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, the UFU’s Deputy President Victor Chestnutt, said they were ‘greatly frustrated that Minister Nichola Mallon has rejected the reclassifying of the M2 Ballymena Bypass from a motorway to a dual carriageway despite unanimous agreement amongst Mid and East Antrim councillors and all MLAs and MPs for the area.’
The letter, which was discussed at the July monthly meeting of the Council, added: ‘The UFU Legislation Committee have been lobbying for this stretch of road to be downgraded for four years, motivated by a concern for public safety.
‘Farmers are forced to navigate large machinery onto the fast lane of the dual carriageway when coming from the north and through a built-up area with schools and shops in the vicinity.
‘This unnecessary agricultural traffic through the town of Ballymena puts individuals at risk which is avoidable if the road were to be reclassified.
‘Reports that road traffic surveys found no tractors travelled through Ballymena town centre on market days are no reason to disregard this issue.
‘Agricultural vehicles are on the road all year round attending to stock and completing fieldwork and even more frequently now during silage and slurry season, one of the busiest periods in the farming calendar.
‘In the interest of public safety and to prevent a road traffic accident, the UFU continue to lobby for the road to be reclassified as a dual-carriageway.
‘The UFU are pleased that there is agreement amongst Mid and East Antrim councillors and want to work with councillors to successfully downgrade this stretch of road to a dual carriageway to protect public safety.
‘The UFU would welcome an opportunity to discuss how to progress and appeal the Minister’s decision,’ the letter ends.
At a previous meeting, councillors had backed the UFU.
At this month’s Council meeting, Cllr Eugene Reid (SDLP, Ballymena) said: “I voted on this proposal on the night in favour of it. Not least because the vast majority of tractors go past my house and there is a huge health and safety issue, there are schools along that route, and it highly populated and is a residential area”.
He said he was in contact with Minister Mallon’s special adviser.
Cllr Reid said he could assure the UFU he was doing all he could to lobby on their behalf.
Cllr Tom Gordon (DUP, Bannside) said he was “very disappointed” at the Minister’s decision.
He added: “I think that we should ask for a meeting with the Minister so that all the relevant facts can be put forward.
“Road safety is our number one priority and I believe agricultural traffic leaving the dual carriageway at Teeshan is just an accident waiting to happen.”
Cllr Gordon proposed a cross-party delegation from the Ballymena area to meet with the Minister.
Alderman William McNeilly (Ulster Unionist, Bannside) said councillors should also meet with police.
Cllr William McCaughey (DUP, Braid) said he too was disappointed but added: “I don’t think we are surprised at it”.
He continued: “I think only those sitting in offices somewhere, who don’t understand, the logistics on the road are the ones making the decision, so I would be more than willing to meet with the Minister or any of the representatives,” he added.
Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said she would organise a meeting with the Minister.
Recently, as reported by ‘Ballymena Daily,’ the plea for the motorway at Ballymena to be reclassified as a dual-carriageway was rejected by Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.
She said traffic surveys were carried out on market days and ‘observations indicated that no tractors travelled through the town’.
In a letter to Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, Minister Mallon had said the issue had been previously discussed “in some detail” with representatives of the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU).
She said: ‘In these discussions it was pointed out that the development of the new Regional Transport Network Plan, which will set out the priorities for future development of the main road and rail networks, is ongoing and the draft document will be issued for public consultation.
‘The UFU may wish to avail of the opportunity at that stage to make representation on the future status of the M2 Ballymena bypass.
‘To help inform our consideration of this matter, and following the initial request to reclassify the M2, my officials undertook a number or traffic surveys on market days to ascertain the numbers of tractors travelling through Ballymena.
‘These observations indicated that no tractors travelled through the town and the vast majority of the vehicles in the market car park were lorries or 4×4 vehicles with trailers, both of which are permitted to use the motorway.
‘Officials also consulted with PSNI Road Policing who stated that they would not be supportive of a change in the current status of the road due to road safety concerns.
‘As such I can confirm there are no immediate plans to reclassify the M2 Ballymena Bypass as the case for this change has not yet been clearly established.’