Bob malcolm and lesley houston
NEWTOWNABBEY residents have hit out at controversial plans to establish a park and ride service far too close to their homes for comfort.
The homeowners' criticism follows transport minister Danny Kennedy's plans to establish over 300 Park and Ride and Park and Share spaces throughout Northern Ireland, including Newtownabbey.
Residents who first heard of plans to build the scheme at Ballyhenry some ten years ago feel their plight has been totally ignored despite amendments which have seen the car park set further away from the properties concerned.
The Newtownabbey homeowners said that to date, 1,000 complaints made to the Planning Department have gone unanswered.
One local, who wishes to remain anonymous, accused the minister of 'spin' after reading the Department of Regional Development's announcement that the Park and Ride facilities were part of a Strategic Review towards integrating Translink bus and rail services.
"Parking will be free at the site which is expected to be open by April 2013. The scheme will provide an alternative for private car commuters that currently pass the site approaching the Sandyknowes roundabout to join the M2 for their journey into Belfast. The scheme, which recently was given planning approval, will cost -pound;250,000 and construction is planned to commence before Christmas," said the department statement.
One local resident said he now feels helpless. "Fighting this is a lost cause now since they say they will be starting work before Christmas.
"We have been concerned about this for 10 years now, and Road Service finally have had planning approved. It will be right up close to the gable walls of houses on Dorchester Drive," he continued.
"It costs -pound;250,000, effectively -pound;2,800 per space -ndash; in this time of austerity is it really appropriate to be spending that amount of money on something like this," he asked.
He said residents were not against the scheme in principle, "but it's too close to all these properties.
"There have been over 1,000 complaints made to Planning Service and none of them have been acknowledged. I don't blame Mr Kennedy, he is only the most recent Minister of this Department. People feel their views have not been listened to," he added.
The new park and ride scheme will be constructed at Ballyhenry Road, between Dorchester Drive and Sandyknowes Roundabout, providing 90 Park -amp; Ride spaces.
It will be served by Translink's existing Metro 'City Express' service.
The Department said is understood locals' concerns. "There has been a long planning history to this proposal. As a result of the issues raised during the planning application process, the plans were amended and the car park set further from the adjacent properties to incorporate a five metre wide landscaping strip and an environmental barrier.
"This resulted in a reduction in the number of car parking spaces that could be accommodated.
"Local Planning Division of the Department of Environment has considered the amended proposals and the objections raised to them in detail, and recently recommended to Newtownabbey Borough Council that the application should be approved. The Council, following an initial deferral to obtain clarification on the precise details of the amended proposal, did not raise any further objections to the recommendation to grant planning permission returned to them in November 2012 .
"Letters are currently being issued by Local Planning Division to inform all objectors of the decision to approve."