Debate of the Week: a greenway network across NI
CS Lewis Square opened in East Belfast last week to much fanfare.
Sculptures depicting some of the world-famous local author’s best-loved creations were unveiled as over 1,000 people turned out to welcome the latest development in the greenway projects that are boosting public spaces in the city, with previous examples including the Sam Thompson Bridge near George Best City Airport.
Both the Comber and Connswater Greenway projects – which all but meet, by coincidence, near the new square – are still under development but have already made significant changes to public spaces threading through Belfast and out into North Down.
And, so, to Debate of the Week – and the DUP’s Sammy Douglas stepping up to ask whether similar measures will be rolled out across Northern Ireland
During Question Time with the Minister for Infrastructure, he asked Sinn Fein’s Chris Hazzard “given his £150 million commitment to develop a greenway network across Northern Ireland, to outline the timescales for the delivery of his strategic plans for greenways.”
The minister said he had launched Exercise Explore Enjoy – his strategic plan for greenways – on November 9 and it sets out a framework for developing a greenway network across all of NI, praising their benefits to public health and wellbeing, and as a fun place for local people and visitors.
“The strategy outlines a longer-term plan for the development of a primary network of around 400 kilometres and a secondary network of around 600 kilometres… [it] outlines a number of 10-year targets, including to have 75% of the primary network and 25% of the larger secondary network delivered by 2026.
“I have also set a target of increasing the number of journeys on the greenways network and the national cycle network to 50 million per annum by 2026. On 9 November, I also announced grant funding to councils for 20 greenway feasibility studies.”
Mr Douglas declared an interest as a trustee of the Connswater Community Greenway before congratulating him on having such a long-term vision for such projects, before asking if, “to make short-term gains”, he would look at measures such as lighting for the Comber Greenway or providing a firm link between it and the Connswater Greenway.
Mr Hazzard said these schemes have been a huge success so far and said ideas such as lighting are being considered, noting that a consultation on the Belfast bicycle network (which includes the Comber Greenway) will shortly begin.
Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer asked if the minister would commit to meeting with the Lagan Navigation Trust to explore the “unique opportunities” that exist in linking the greenways network with Lagan Valley regional park and the blueways network.
The minister said he would “absolutely” do this and noted he is a regularly user of the Lagan towpath himself, saying it “has great heritage and also great potential for the future”.
“You only have to go on to it at the weekend to see that it is absolutely buzzing. It is like a high street in the town. It is great to see. The long-term vision of the Lagan linking into the restoration of the Ulster canal and even further is a project that is worth good attention in the years ahead. I only wish that I had the money to start work tomorrow.”
The way forward
Nichola Mallon, SDLP, noted the call by the CEO of Titanic Quarter for Northern Ireland to have another major attraction, and asked if the greenways could provide just that.
Mr Hazzard said he was “delighted and privileged” to have launched the greenway plan just outside Dundrum, on the old Belfast and Co Down railway line, which he said used to bring tourists from Belfast to north and south Down – adding that green spaces, particularly using active travel such as cycling, can certainly boost the local tourism trade.
“Some of the schemes for the glens and another one to link Carlingford lough and Lough Neagh are very exciting. There are some great schemes for us to be excited about over the next five to 10 years.”
Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw asked what discussions have taken place with local authorities to progress the proposed greenway in Carryduff, noting that its feasibility study is under way.
The minister said he was yet to have specific contact with Lisburn and Castlereagh Council on this matter, but said such a development – from Carryduff and through Belvoir forest - would be “fantastic” and could also play a vital role in alleviating congestion from the city “considering the success of the Cairnshill park-and-ride facility”.
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