Latest phase of Greenway open as £40m project back on track after bonfire row
Scores of people have attended the opening of a new section of the £40m Connswater Greenway in east Belfast, which was caught up in controversy earlier this month after bonfire materials were dumped on it by loyalists.
Tyres and wooden pallets were left by the bonfire builders, creating an eyesore on the Greenway at Flora Street, and politicians demanded their removal.
After approaches by community groups, loyalists agreed to abandon plans to build a bonfire there and the materials were taken away.
Three other new parts of the Greenway will be opened later this week, marking its extension with a further 4kms of cycle and pedestrian paths, two new play parks, two multi-use games areas and two bridges.
Earlier this month a new bridge on the Greenway was named in honour of actor James Ellis, who was born and raised just a few hundred yards away in Park Avenue.
A nearby bridge in Victoria Park was called after Ellis's friend, shipyard worker and playwright Sam Thompson, who wrote Over The Bridge, the controversial play about sectarianism in the Belfast shipyard.
The entire Greenway, a 9km linear park through east Belfast along the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers, should be completed in the next few weeks.
The four newest sections of run between the Newtownards Road and Connswater Link; Avoniel Leisure Centre and the Beersbridge Road; Castlereagh Road and Ladas Way, and Ladas Drive and Montgomery Road.
As well as the pedestrian and cycle paths, the new sections of include boardwalks, benches, lighting, signage, and landscaping, and in a number of areas there are also flood walls, part of a £12m programme by the Department for Infrastructure to protect 1,700 homes in the area from water damage. Next month officials from the Greenway will encourage the public to help them with the naming of the new play parks and bridges. Similar public consultations were held before three other bridges in the Bloomfield area were named after Belfast's first female Lord Mayor Grace Bannister, community worker Billy Shannon and local headmaster David Hutchinson.
A suggestion by one wag to name a bridge Bridgey McBridgeface was rejected.
The Greenway has been one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in east Belfast.
It was developed by EastSide Partnership and delivered by Belfast City Council, which is managing the construction work.
The council has also provided funding for the Greenway, as have the Big Lottery Fund and several departments within the Stormont Executive.
As part of the project, a new visitors' centre and the CS Lewis Square, featuring sculptures of characters from his famous book, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, were opened near Holywood Arches in tribute to the author.
And the 'Hollow' in the Beersbridge Road area, immortalised in Van Morrison's popular Brown Eyed Girl, was spruced up and had storyboards added to its site, close to the singer's family home.
Wendy Langham, Greenway programme manager, described the opening of the new links as a major milestone, and said children in the area were looking forward to using the new play parks.
She added: "Taking over 337,000 man hours to build, we are very excited to be moving into our final weeks of phase 2 construction works."
Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said the Greenway offered environmental and health benefits for the city's residents and visitors.
"They can enjoy a unique glimpse of Belfast and the changing landscape as they walk, run or cycle the Greenway," the city's first citizen added.