FURTHER SET BACKS FOR ASHBURY PLAYGROUND

LONG-DELAYED plans for a playground in the east of Bangor have hit another setback – because of fears they could cause a sewer to overflow. Several years ago, Ards and North Down Council settled on a plan to build a new playground near a shopping precinct in the Ashbury part of Bangor. The heavily suburban area is popular with young families, but lacks publicly accessible play facilities for kids.

The intended site of the playground is in private hands, but the council hammered out a deal that would see the landowners put in a planning application covering an extension to the Ashbury shops along with the new play area and some car parking spaces. That deal saw the council pay part of the cost of the planning application, and the landowner would then hand the deeds to the intended playground site over to the local authority once permissions were signed off. But now NI Water has stated that it wants to block the planning application altogether.

The water firm states that there is ‘a public foul sewer’ within 20 metres of the site marked off in the overall planning application, and that it wouldn’t have the capacity to cope with any more buildings being connected to it. If the application goes ahead and both the playground and the shops extension are built, says NI Water, there would be ‘significant risks’ of the sewer overflowing, causing damage to the environment and nearby properties. As a result, the water firm says that the whole plan should be refused permission. Currently the landowner is carrying out studies to get more detail on sewer network capacity in the area, but council documents state that ‘the Ashbury play area cannot be delivered’ until the plannCing application is sorted out.

Speaking this week, councillor Tom Smith registered his disappointment with yet more delays to the playground plans. As he pointed out, it’s now almost four years since the council agreed to set money aside for the project, and more than three years since the local authority invited residents of the Ashbury and Ballycrochan areas along to public meetings to discuss the playground idea. “This is incredibly frustrating given how long we have discussed having a play park here,” Mr Smith said. “Obviously the pandemic did slow things down, but we have reached an agreement with the landowner to build a play park on green space in front of the Ashbury shops, as part of a wider development which would include a small number of new retail units.  “I will be asking for a further report to be brought back on this matter no later than three months from now. This is to ensure we don’t allow the matter to continue to drift.  “In three months, we can reassess the planning application and see what steps have been taken to address NI Water’s concerns. We should also work with the landowner to see if the planning applications could be split – one for the retail units, and another to allow the play park to move forward on its own.”

Mr Smith added that if the worst comes to the worst, the council could look at relocating the playground, potentially on part of nearby Linear Park. “My preference would be to continue to pursue the Ashbury shops site; however, we must keep the option of a change of location open, if it looks like the current plans are going to be delayed further,” said the independent unionist. He also pointed out that the drive for a playground in the Ashbury area has been going on for so long that it was originally brought before the old North Down Council, prior to the 2015 supercouncil merger that created the current local authority. “I am extremely saddened that, many years later, we still do not have that park up and running,” he said. “Those who were children when this was first mooted. and who would have benefited from a play park. are now in their early teens. “We have let down one generation of children in this area. We must make sure we do not fail another.”