£300K OF COUNCIL CASH DOWN THE DRAIN

ALMOST £300,000 of the council’s money was spent on its now-cancelled coastal path greenway scheme.

And although the project promised to bring £7m of government grants into the borough, officials now think there’s no chance of getting hold of that cash to carry out some much-needed improvements to the existing path. Spent between 2017 and now, the £300,000 went on surveying, engineering and environmental consultants, a council spokeswoman stated, as well as ‘legal and statutory fees including planning and advertising’.

And although the council was expecting to get a large amount of government funding to pay for the greenway, the £300,000 came directly from the coffers of Ards and North Down. Council finance director Simon Christie has confirmed there’s no realistic way of recovering the cash. It’s commonly agreed that large parts of the coastal path need improvement work, mostly on sections between Helen’s Bay and Holywood.

Stretches of the path in that area are already seeing regular flooding problems, while others are falling victim to coastal erosion that in the recent past has forced authorities to shut sections off to protect the public pending repair work. Parts of the route on the approach to Holywood feature rough terrain that’s difficult for joggers and cyclists to use, let alone those with disabilities, and some sections are so narrow that it’s hard for walkers travelling in different directions to pass each other.

During last week’s council meeting, several politicians spoke of the need to tackle those issues – but it’s no longer clear where the money to do so will come from. The £7m in government grants that the council expected to get to pay for the greenway project is now lost, and local authority officials have no clue whether or not any other grants that could cover the cost of improving the path are out there. Said the spokeswoman: “It would be unlikely that the Department for Infrastructure’s funding for greenways could be utilised for alternative improvement schemes. “It is also too early to say if any alternative funding purely related to improvement works would be available from other sources.”