Posted by: wesleyjohnston | February 9, 2013

A-class Upgrades and Downgrades in Tyrone and Fermanagh

A fairly brief blog this time, just to let you know about some important changes that are being made to road numbers in Tyrone and Fermanagh. In one case, an existing B-class road is getting promoted to A-class, and in the other case an existing A-class road is getting downgraded to B-class. This sort of thing usually happens when a nearby road upgrade is completed. For example, when the A4 was dualled from Ballygawley to Dungannon in 2010, the existing A4 became the B34, while the new road stole the A4 number. However, just occasionally, Roads Service decide to play about with A and B numbers for other reasons.

Back in the old days, i.e. before Roads Service took over the management of all roads in 1973, county councils were responsible for roads, and until then the classification of a road was critically important. At that point an A-class road attracted a large financial subsidy from central government for its upkeep, while B-class roads attracted less and so on. Nowadays there is no such financial distinction, and so the classification of a road is done purely to help the general public to navigate. The idea is that the principal non-motorway roads in the province are given ‘A’ numbers so that drivers are aware that these are the recommended routes for long distance travel. ‘B’ numbers are generally used to connect smaller settlements to the main road network, or to provide a feeder road through an urban or rural area. The rest of the road network is regarded as unclassified (although in fact there is a third layer of ‘C’ numbers, and a fourth set of ‘U’ numbers, that don’t appear on signs).

The classification of a road, therefore, is generally taken as an indication of how important Roads Service regard that road to be for users. So therefore when a road gets promoted from B to A class, we can conclude either that Roads Service think this road is now more important than its number suggests, or that specifically they want more people to use it. Conversely, when a road gets demoted from A to B class, we can conclude that Roads Service either think a road is now less important than its number suggests, or that they specifically want to discourage people from using it.

This piece of legislation contains the news from Fermanagh and Tyrone. It includes various changes, such as applying the A32 number to the new Cherrymount Link road in Enniskillen, and playing with the the numbers of some B, C and U class roads. However, my attention has been drawn to two other changes.

A47 Enniskillen to Kesh

The A47 currently runs 26km from Kesh to Belleek, including the well-known stretch along Boa Island at the top of Lower Lough Erne.  The A47, however, is going to get extended almost all the way to Enniskillen. How? By promoting the B82 which runs up the east side of Lower Lough Erne, past Castle Archdale. There will be a small gap between this bit of the A47 and the existing A47 where the road briefly meets the A35 before they go their separate ways once gain. This simple change will, at a stroke, increase the length of the A47 by 60%. The map below shows the existing A47 in blue, and the newly promoted stretch in red.

You can go from Enniskillen to Kesh now by following the A32 to Irvinestown, and then taking the A35 to Kesh. Since most local people probably know that this is not the most direct route, the upgrade of the B62 to A47 is probably a simple recognition of what is already a fact on the ground, ie that this is an important long distance route. It might also encourage a few non-locals to avoid Irvinestown.

A28 Augher to Aughnacloy

The A28 is an important road running all the way from the A5 at Aughnacloy to Newry, via Armagh. It forms the main route from Newry to Omagh and Derry. However, there is a less well known section of the A28 connecting Aughnacloy to Augher, basically cutting off one side of the triangle formed by the A4 and A5. The A28 is shown in blue on the map below, with the little section from Aughnacloy to Augher marked in red.

To be fair, calling this an A-class road even now is a bit of a stretch. The road winds and twists its way through the south Tyrone countryside, and looks more like a minor rural road in places. For example:

Now that both the A5 and the A4 that make up the other sides of this triangle have been upgraded, there is really no good reason for this road to have an A-number at all. It’s slower, less safe and of a lower standard than the A4 and A5. Roads Service have, quite correctly I think, decided that it’s time to kill of this bit of the A28. And so it will become the much more credible B128.


These changes take effect from Monday, 11 February 2013. At that point the changes will have been legally made. However, it may be some time before all the signs are changed and – from past experience – some signs may survive the change and become anachronisms for the road enthusiasts of the future to puzzle over! So whenever anyone points out an odd B82 sign on the new A47 near Castle Archdate, you can knowledgeably reply “Ah, yes, that was indeed the case until ‘The Roads (Classification) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013’ took effect on 11 February 2013”! 🙂

Epilogue – The Hillhall Road Embarrassment

Mind you, if Roads Service can see fit to upgrade the B82 to A47 in rural Fermanagh, then surely the time has come to promote the B23 Hillhall Road and B205 from Lisburn to East Belfast? For all practical purposes, and despite the rather unimportant sounding number, this is actually a critically important regional road, feeding a lot of long-distance traffic off the A1/M1 route towards the A55 Outer Ring and hence on towards Newtownards and Bangor. The fact that Hillhall Road still resolutely carries the B23 number despite being of such importance is surely a case of Roads Service stubbornly refusing to accept that most people don’t obediently drive up the M1 to Stockman’s Lane and crawl along Balmoral Avenue to get to the A55 Knock dual-carriageway when they can take a far more direct route along the Hillhall Road! In recent years the Hillhall Road has had a lot of money spent on it smoothing out bad corners, improving sightlines. It’s not as “bad” as it was a few years ago.

What number would it get? Well there is, in fact, a ready made number conveniently waiting in Lisburn – the A3 which runs from beyond Armagh to Lisburn, where it then stops. There is no reason why Roads Service could not accept the reality of the situation and give the Hillhall Road the A-number it deserves, and why not the number A3?

My suggested extension to the A3 is shown below – starting at Saintfield Road roundabout on the M1, running along Largymore Link and then along the Hillhall Road, Ballylesson Road, Purdysburn Hill and Hospital Road before terminating on the A55 at Belvoir. Anyone with me?



  1. There is one good reason not to upgrade the Hillhall Rd/Ballylesson Rd/Purdysburn Rd to an A road. You reason that in Fermanagh the Kesh-Enniskillen route upgrade might encourage tourists to take it rather than the less scenic, longer route through Irvinestown. Conversely, keeping the Hillhall Rd as B-road might discourage through traffic.
    Yes, a lot of money has been spent near Hillhall village where heavy rain tended to flood the road, smoothing out 2 bends where joyriders previously ploughed into garden walls. However, the remainder of the road is ill-suited to large HGV and speeds in excess of 30mph, being too winding and narrow.
    I have no quibble with the B23 from Newforge Lane to Bradbury Place being designated an A, leaving the Lisburn Rd from Balmoral Ave to Bradbury Place downgraded to a 20mph B.

    • I believe DRD will not change the classification of the Hillhall Road for exactly the line of reasoning you say. Using B-classifications to discourage those who don’t know the route is a good tactic used by the DRD. However, I do think Hillhall Road is a borderline case, since it is so well known regionally that I doubt that there are too many people who are unaware of it. Giving it an A-number would simply be accepting the reality on the ground. I take the point that it is still not a great road, especially at the Lisburn end.

  2. When travelling to Enniskillen from Derry as a child, my father would usually use the A5 to Victoria Bridge, then the B72 through Castlederg, turn off down a UC road via Tubrid which we used to call “the Bumpy Road”, then onto the A35 through Kesh, then travel along the B82 and join the A32 at Trory Junction.

    Back then, the B82 was a reasonable standard of road and seemed more direct than passing through Dromore and Irvinestown on the A32 (yes, you pass through Lisnarick and Killadeas, but with barely interruption and more pleasing scenery). Worthy of non-primary A-class IMO.

  3. This is the road I always take to East Belfast from the M1. It really isn’t fit for A Road designation, the poor tourists would have a conniption.

    Much of it is limited to 30mph and the geometry is around 30mph territory and no more than 40mph along any of its length. Upgrading to A would result in more traffic and a lower than 30mph quality of service.

    Lets just keep it as what it is shall we, a well kept secret bypass of the rush hour bottlenecks in and around Balmoral 🙂

  4. Hi concerning the A47 upgrade, I would have to agree with this. As being a Fermanagh-ian myself and going up in Irvinestown. If I was traveling to Kesh from Enniskillen I would take the route via Killadeas, there’s maybe little in difference of distance but time wise it is pretty much the same. I think this was done maybe to take traffic away from Manoo Cross, the intersection has been the site of a number of collisions and some sadly being fatal. And also avoiding Irvinestown which receives Omagh bound traffic also.

    Time scale for applying these route numbers is the million dollar question! I work for a sat-nav mapping company in Newry and was in contact to see when these route numbers would change on local signage. I was told it was up to progress of local divisions and they would be touch in September. I must say their co-operation at the Roads Service regarding my querys is brilliant and they can’t do enough for you. But this gives me a dilemma…..if the road is known as A47 but in reality it is still B82 we must keep B82 to prevent any confusion during end-user navigation up to when the sign is changed!! So i slightly worried about your comment regarding some signs may survive the change and become anachronisms! Fingers crossed 🙂

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