G8 Lough Erne: Minister wants lasting legacy to infrastructure

Published: 29 Nov 2012 14:300 comments

PICTURE the scene: Barack Obama has the feet up in his presidential suite following tense talks and is trying desperately to text Michelle and the childer.

DETI Minister Arlene Foster and Prime Minister David Cameron.

But there's a problem: he only has half a bar on his 'cell phone' so like the rest of us he must press his face up against the window holding his phone aloft -- for three days. We have all been there. Some of us are still there.

The lack of mobile phone signal here is a huge problem and now Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Arlene Foster has vowed to push for major improvements to the infrastructure in Enniskillen in time for the G8 Summit at Lough Erne next year.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment says she wants the event next June to leave "a lasting legacy" in the county and has confirmed that her department is currently looking into a number of options, including improving the mobile phone and broadband signal in the area.

Hosting world leaders, including President Obama is one thing, but having potentially tens of thousands of people in Enniskillen during the conference presents a number of problems, but nothing that cannot be looked at by those in power...

1) Mobile phone signal and broadband speeds.

GETTING enough signal on your phone to make a call or send a text in some areas of Fermanagh can be exasperating. Imagine how difficult it could be for the thousands of visitors next year and the rest of us if something is not done about it, because more people using their phones means more pressure on the mobile phone network. Having held meetings with phone companies this week, Mrs Foster acknowledges this is something that needs looked at in time for the G8.

"The Department have a telecommunications action plan and we are looking at all of this. I had a chat with Vodafone this week about 'not spots and black spots'. We are looking at private sector plans and what we as a government can do. It is certainly progress and we are very focused on that, particularly regarding the traffic on the spectrum next June," she said.

2) The regeneration of Enniskillen Town Centre.

PRIME Minister David Cameron hailed Lough Erne as one of the "most beautiful" places in the United Kingdom last week. And right he was. We all know that our county is a pretty special place, that's why news of the Enniskillen Town Masterplan earlier this month was met with nearly as much excitement as the G8, even if it could take 20 years to roll out! The objectives of the Department of Social Development include promoting and strengthening local shops, maximising the town's tourism potential, making the most of its physical assets and geographical location, promoting its unique identity as an island town and reducing traffic congestion within the town centre.

With thousands expected in Enniskillen next year there is a unique opportunity to boost the life of the town and bring much needed revenue into the area. And with the world's media in attendance wouldn't it be a PR disaster if Enniskillen and indeed Fermanagh wasn't promoted and 'sold' as one of Ireland's most stunning locations. Mrs Foster says she doesn't think we should wait for several years before some of the ideas in the plan are implemented.

"There is an amazing opportunity here, I am going to speak to my colleague Nelson McCausland (Social Development Minister) to see if we can accelerate any of the plans in time for the G8," she said.

3) Vacant properties and derelict buildings.

EMPTY shops cluttering up our streets is another issue. We have some amazing views courtesy of the county's natural beauty, but do we really want all our visitors looking at decrepit buildings?

When Portrush was named as host of the Irish Open golf tournament Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced a £405,000 funding package to tackle dereliction in the area. Mrs Foster says she will be holding a meeting with the Minister to see if similar options are available for Enniskillen.

"I want to see if Alex Attwood can deal with vacant properties in Enniskillen in the same way he did for the Irish Open," she said.

4) Potholes, traffic congestion and roads.

WITH a huge volume of traffic expected here next year it is hoped improvements will be made to the roads network in Fermanagh in time for the summit.

The Enniskillen by-pass between the Cherrymount Roundabout on the Irvinestown Road and a newly constructed roundabout on the Tempo Road will go along way in helping to ease the flow of traffic when they finally go into operation (at some stage next year), but what about the other issues? The potholes? The gridlock on Belmore Street in the evenings? And then there are the traffic lights at Gaol Square that don't know how many cars to let through at any given time; sometimes three, sometimes 10. Now, there's a problem for a presidential convoy.

"Whatever solution we bring we want it to be a lasting infrastructure and one that will leave a legacy. I want to talk to the Department of Regional Development to see what can be done. There will be a whole range of conversations," said Mrs. Foster.

5) Cleaning up the litter.

IT is really easy to sit back and demand that our elected politicians sort out the problems in Enniskillen and do what is expected of them before the arrival of Prime Minister David Cameron and co. But what about what is expected of us?

Emma Shaw and her colleagues in 'Part to Play Fermanagh' did their bit to improve Lough Erne at the weekend and afterwards they tweeted us a photograph to prove it. "Just want to share how much litter [we] picked out of Lough Erne in canoes," wrote Emma.

So, isn't it also up to us to make sure our town looks its best while thousands of people from around world come to enjoy what we all hold so dear?

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