Landowner tells disgruntled swimmers he won’t close beach

By Lesley Walsh 

A LANDOWNER has given assurances that swimmers who enjoy a daily dip at Portavoe Beach in Donaghadee will not be barred from the popular swimming haunt. 

He was responding to concerns of swimmers who fear steps are being taken to stop them enjoying the tiny local beach.

On Tuesday, early morning swimmers were greeted with traffic cones which they learned could be followed by the painting of double yellow lines, preventing them from parking their cars along the Warren Road, as they have been routinely doing, some for many years.

Swimmers are hoping however, that they will be able to sidestep the traffic measures by parking inside the lines, on the road’s layby, to facilitate continued access to the beach path.

Anthony Day, one of the owners of the beach, said there is no intention of closing the beach to swimmers, but said parking has gotten ‘out of control’.

He said the path to the beach was recently improved by the installation of a handrail, in an effort to make what was a precarious path, safer for users.

He and ‘a small group of landowners’ which purchased the beach area last year also put in a fence along the road leading to the path, and a gate currently fixed in an open position.

Signs indicating Portavoe as a ‘Private Beach’ and warning swimmers to use it at their ‘own risk’ and to avoid lighting fires, have also been erected by the owners. Other signs indicate a ‘danger of falling’.

But there have been mixed feelings about the measures among swimmers who fear the efforts could be a prelude to them being shut out for good.

Many are still reeling from the shock closure of the nearby Portavoe Reservoir which was sold off by NI Water in 2021.

Mr Day acknowledged the upset surrounding the closure of the reservoir and said ‘just as swimmers are not all the same, not all landowners are the same’. 

Mr Day, who has lived there for nine years with his family, said he has done ‘the opposite’ of closing the beach.

“What was a dangerous path is now considerably safer,” he said.

“Most know we have no intention of closing the beach off,” he said adding ‘most swimmers, and I speak to them every day, know that I am happy’ for them to swim at Portavoe.

Mr Day said he was among ‘a small group’ of residents who purchased the land on which the handrail was installed, which leads down to the beach foreshore – above the mean high water mark – beyond which belongs to the Crown. 

Commenting on the impact of Portavoe’s popularity, he said: “The parking is out of control; the police, the DfI, the council all acknowledge that,” he said.

Swimmers were aghast earlier this year when large boulders appeared on the side of the road preventing cars from parking, and which were later removed on safety grounds, but he said those ‘had nothing to do with us’.

“They were removed after a couple of weeks then the DfI agreed to improve sight lines, perhaps putting in white striped lines; that was agreed in January.”

Mr Day said there have been issues with people visiting the beach, lighting fires and leaving litter which has attracted rats to the area.

But he said: “We have no problem sharing the beach with others as long as they are considerate to others using it.”

Mr Day said he had been working with local representatives to ‘make the path as safe as possible’, including Independent MLA for North Down, Alex Easton.

He continued that ‘a lot of regular local swimmers have tried to support us’ and said ‘we hope we can work with the council to keep it open for everyone’.

Alex Easton said he has been assured by Mr Day that he is ‘not going to close off the right of way’. 

“He said he only plans to make it safe for everyone and I’m quite happy that is the case. I was wary but I met him and he gave me these reassurances.”

Ards and North Down Council confirmed a meeting has taken place with Mr Day and that ‘council officers will now consider the topics discussed’.