PLANS to identify an alternative route for North Down’s first public greenway could be years away, a council chief has confirmed.
The controversial 31.5km Kinnegar to Donaghadee coastal path greenway proposal had been seven years in the making with costs in the region of £300,000 before it was unanimously scrapped by councillors just two weeks ago.
Council boss Graeme Bannister, whose community and well-being directorate is overseeing the borough’s greenway network plans, confirmed the local authority does not have an alternative North Down route at this stage.
Addressing two public meetings, held at Holywood’s Queen’s Leisure Complex after the greenway scheme was pulled, Mr Bannister said the officers were ‘not in a position to get into a discussion’ about an alternative greenway route.
He stressed that any plans for an alternative route ‘could be’ explored by the working group that councillors had agreed to set up to explore accessibility, maintenance and connectivity of the coastal path, after the greenway scheme was shelved.
Urging a note of caution, Mr Bannister stated that it had taken the council ‘seven years to get where we are today and it will take some time’ to pinpoint a new North Down route as the working group had not yet been set up.
The borough’s Comber greenway, created in 2008, was Northern Ireland’s first greenway and links the town to Belfast. Two further council greenway plans are still in the pipeline including one running from Comber to Newtownards to connect with the Comber Greenway.
A second proposed greenway, from Newtownards to the Green Road, is due to link the Somme Museum and Whitespots, beginning at Belvedere Road in Newtownards and following the former railway track to the museum.
Mr Bannister told the public meetings that things would be ‘very different’ now that the coastal path greenway had been cancelled, and said the council ‘would step back and think again about the North Down coastal path’.
He said: “Today is the first time we are talking to the members of the public about the next stage. This was supposed to be a greenway consultation but it is now something different.
“We are looking to identify smaller schemes (for repairs and improvements of the coastal path) and involve local communities. It is a decision that the working group will take.”
This process could involve direction from the councillors, stakeholder engagement, compiling a business case, addressing environmental issues, securing any necessary planning approval and the necessary funding.
However councillor Ray McKimm, who brought forward the proposal to withdraw the coastal path greenway plans, told the meeting that ‘it was not over for the greenway’.
He said: “The proposal was to remove it for a destination yet to be determined. I know we are not geared up at this stage but there will be a working group.”
He said elected councillors would work with council officers and there would be a series of project groups. “It is not one path, it is a series of paths, it is your choice as to what will shape it.”
However not everyone agreed with the council’s decision to halt the scheme, with local man Alan Houston saying he was ‘stunned’ and ‘can’t believe how the council caved in’ and cancelled what had the ‘potential to be a world class greenway’.
Mr Houston voiced his concerns at the council’s decision to stop the planned coastal path scheme saying: “This started in 2016 and now we are here with zilch in 2023. It has the potential to be a world class greenway, it is as good as anything you would get around the world.”
Mr Houston said he had been using the coastal path for the past 60 years for both walking and cycling but described it as ‘dangerous’ as a number of accidents occurred on the coastal route.”
He also highlighted a number of ‘success’ greenways that had helped put ‘little back villages on the map’ in areas such as Waterford, The Great Eastern Greenway in Howth, Limerick, Dollymount Strand and Athlone Greenway that traces the historic Midlands Great Western Railway track.
Also attending the meeting, Rodney Paul also said he had been in favour of the now shelved greenway scheme and said it would be a ‘shame if it didn’t proceed’. He called attention to the ‘generally very poor provision’ for cyclists locally compared to the cycling network in England.
He said: “I commend the council for wanting to bring this forward and I would encourage the councillors to carry on bringing forward the proposal.”