The Long Oul Road

The road is of course the A55 Knock Road which passes through the RACKS area. Back in 2007 a news article caught my eye: ‘Residents are concerned at the volume and speed of traffic using the (Knock) area as a ‘rat-run’. The proposed widening of the Knock Road and revised junctions with it will seriously exacerbate the problem.’

The history of the A55 dates back to the early days of the Belfast Urban Motorway (or the delightful ‘BUM’ acronym) in the late 1950s. The concept was a sound one. With the increase in road traffic, the plan was the construction of a dual carriageway ring road connecting the outer reaches of East Belfast, from Newtownbreda to Knocknagoney. So Far so good.

The historical name for the wee country road from Knock to Newtownbreda was ‘Hillfoot’ although this dispensed with in favour of the bureaucratically-friendly A55. A similar move I suppose to the 1960s idea to dispense with the old townland names (like ‘Knock’ or who can remember ‘Ballycloghan’?) in favour of postcodes.

But why was a dual-carriageway not developed on Knock Road from Ascot Park through to the Upper Newtownards Road?

A late 1950s view of the old Hillfoot Road where the Knock Burn river crosses the road from Braniel (left) to Orangefield (right). A very close look will reveal signage declaring ‘Danger Roadworks Ahead’

 

Best-laid plans! During the summer of 1959, as the roadworks approached Knock a headline in the Belfast News-Letter breathlessly reported the ominous-sounding Knock Residents protest against road widening plan’. (This threw a spanner into the works – a bit like ‘Brexit’) and ‘Belfast Corporation Improvement Committee is to inspect on July 9 (1959) the section of the Knock Road which will be affected by the proposal to build an 80-foot-wide dual carriageway between the city boundary at Clara Park and the old Knock railway station.

A good turnout from members of Belfast Corporation Improvement Committee on 9th July 1959 who are diligently observing the landscape – and watched by three of the younger members of the Knock concerned citizens.

 

What was the outcome of these deliberations?

A further News-Letter article dutifully reported ‘Second thoughts on Knock Road widening scheme, Committee to recommend new plan’. The residents’ objection that a dual-carriageway was neither ‘necessary nor desirable’ was accepted and so not proceeded with and has been the subject of intermittent debate. Although the Knock Road from Clarawood to the Upper Newtownards has over the years been widened and improved.

 

A narrow Knock Road in 1959, from Cherryvalley, looking in the direction of King’s Road. Brooklyn is to the left and the white building to the right was beside the BCDR railway line.

 

However, instead of widening the road infrastructure, there has been considerable investment in pedestrian walkways and cycle paths. This includes the excellent 7-mile Comber Greenway, on the site of the old BCDR track-bed linking Dee Street to Comber. Just outside the immediate Knock area the similar (and parallel) Connswater Greenway links Braniel to Victoria Park

Now, wouldn’t it be a great idea to link the two walkways (by another walkway) along Knock Road and make good use of all that derelict land, previously vested, that has remained unused since the 1980s?

 

Article by Aidan Campbell

Read more about local history at: www.eastbelfasthistory.com

Link to more information on the A55 Knock Road Widening Plan