Northern Ireland news

Warning over 'huge ramifications' if precedent is set over council taking on Greenway responsibility

The Comber Greenway starts in east Belfast, and a proposal to transfer responsibility for the route's city section to Belfast City Council is being considered.
Michael Kenwood

BELFAST City Council taking on ownership of a popular walking and cycle route in order to improve safety during winter could have "huge ramifications" for issues including rates setting, it has been warned.

A proposal for the council to take responsibility for a stretch of the Comber Greenway in east Belfast is being considered, following a Green Party proposal to transfer it from the Department of Infrastructure (DfI)

It follows concerns the route remains ungritted in winter, leaving users faced with "ice rink" conditions.

The Greenway runs for seven miles between Belfast and Comber in Co Down, and the proposal suggests transferring responsibility for the city section of the route in order to ensure it can be made safe when temperatures plummet, as the DfI does not grit public footpaths.

The tree-lined route was opened officially in 2008, on the old Comber to Belfast railway line.

At the council’s recent meeting of its Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, elected representatives agreed to commission a report looking at a potential asset transfer of the Greenway between the Beersbridge Road and Tullycarnet boundary, from Stormont "with the aim of bringing the urban path under full council ownership".

The report also suggests the council engage with a local community partnership charity on the Greenway.

Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn said the Greenway - where the DfI is currently installing new path lighting - was the "jewel of East Belfast" that is "incredibly well used" by walkers and cyclists.

"People in East Belfast will know the issues that come up every single year. I was chatting to residents, one who was trying to walk her dog recently, and she literally stopped at Abbey Road and said ‘not a chance’, because it was like an ice rink," he said.

"And the problem is every time this is taken up with the Department for Infrastructure, they will simply not do anything about it. They say it is not within their remit to grit public rights of way or public footpaths – which is a difficult situation because they own the damn thing."

However, Sinn Féin councillor Ciaran Beattie expressed concern over the "precedent" set if the section of the Greenway was transferred to the council.

"This has huge ramifications. There are many assets in the city that don’t belong to this council, for example the Bog Meadows, a greenway between west and south. To take these projects into our ownership, unless we get a substantial maintenance fee, which I can’t see DFI giving us, could be a huge noose around our neck in terms of our rate setting."

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