A local group is set to fight tooth and nail against proposals to tear up the Comber Greenway to build a rapid bus network, by the government department which has turned it into a nature walkway.
In an ironic turn of events the Department of Regional Development, (DRD) which has already spent £250,000 on turning the seven-mile stretch from Belfast to Comber into a green haven for walkers and cyclists, are now proposing up to five miles of the greenway from the Holywood Arches to Dundonald be used for a £147m rapid bus network instead.
This is despite Roads Service having already earmarked a total of £272,000 of public money into the green scheme. It is one of four government departments and agencies set to invest around £800,000 into completing the nature project, due to be finished at the end of 2008.
The DRD proposals have been slammed as “ridiculous” by Dr Bryan Burke, a member of BAKnature, as hundreds of east Belfast greenway users expressed their dismay at the proposals at a series of community meetings.
He hit out: “It is a ridiculous situation. Thanks to people like the Sustrans (a sustainable transport charity) and the DRD we got the pathway into a great condition but now ironically because of the DRD, the same people who invested the money, are now going to destroy it.
“It is ironic that a pathway used by people to walk, cycle and exercise should be replaced by a bus system to encourage people out of their cars.”
Dr Burke also hit out at the DRD’s suggestion that a new path for users would be built alongside any new bus lanes.
“Once it is gone it will be lost for good and the bottom line is there will be no walkway full of nature to pass on to our kids,” he said.
Greenway user Caroline Bloomfield said the yet unnamed local group she is acting chairperson of is gearing up for a long haul campaign against DRD’s plans.
“It seems very strange the department who supported the nature walkway now proposes to turn it into a bus route with fumes. That is certainly not going to enhance my experience using the greenway and I can’t imagine it will anyone else’s. We have been amazed at the strength of feeling against the proposals. The community is rallying to save the little green space they have. It is a fantastic resource used by so many different people of all ages,” she said.
A DRD spokeswoman said the work to the picturesque greenway was undertaken “in the full knowledge that the line would in the future be used for rapid transit.
“We took a decision that walkers and cyclists should benefit from the space in the meantime and that we could build an interim pathway that people could enjoy whilst the rapid transit proposals were being developed.”
A public meeting over the plans will be held next Thursday (June 5th) at 7.30pm at the Walkway Community Centre, Finvoy Street.