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Coronavirus: 'Difficult call' on opening Northern Ireland parks down to councils


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People in Botanic Gardens at Easter despite stay at home advice

People in Botanic Gardens at Easter despite stay at home advice

Belfast’s Botanic Gardens remain open

Belfast’s Botanic Gardens remain open

Moira Demesne is closed

Moira Demesne is closed

Lurgan Park is closed

Lurgan Park is closed

People in Botanic Gardens at Easter despite stay at home advice

Councils here are taking very different approaches to opening public parks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month officials closed all forest parks to the public as social distancing advice had been ignored.

However, council-owned land is under the ownership of the local authorities.

While parks in some council areas have been shut, others remain open.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots acknowledged the decision to leave parks open or close their gates was a "difficult call".

Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council closed its parks last month, as did Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said its public parks and open spaces will remain open, however this will be kept under review.

Mid Ulster District Council has closed its play areas, pitches and bowling greens. On Thursday it closed Dungannon Park and Ballyronan Marina to vehicle access.

Meanwhile, Ards and North Down Borough Council has closed its "larger parks/open spaces" such as Kiltonga Nature Reserve, as there were concerns around the ability to maintain social distancing.

Island Hill was also shut after evidence emerged of visitors travelling to the site by car.

Other parks in residential areas remain open as places for people to walk for exercise.

All public parks and open spaces remain open in the Derry City and Strabane District Council and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council areas.

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has closed Megaw Park in Ballymoney, Dungiven Castle Park and Croaghan Way, but large recreational spaces remain open to facilitate public access routes.

From Saturday vehicle access was denied at Downhill, Benone and Castlerock beaches after cars got stuck in the sand, causing avoidable callouts for the emergency services.

Pedestrian access is still available for local residents and those who use the beaches for daily exercise or to walk their dogs.

Councils that have kept their parks open have all encouraged those using them to adhere to the social distancing guidelines.

Mr Poots said one view was that social distancing can be practised better in green spaces, rather than confining people to footpaths. "That is not an unreasonable argument. However, we had a problem a number of weeks ago with large crowds of people congregating in forest parks," he explained.

"I personally don't have an issue with anybody going out for a walk in a park but it was the issue of congregations that caused us the problems.

"If that isn't an issue then people walking in a park shouldn't be an issue because they're getting exercise, it's good for their mental health and getting a bit of fresh air is good for their general health, so long as they're avoiding contact with other people."

Highlighting the huge crowds that swelled Tollymore and Castlewellan Forest Parks in Co Down before their closures, Mr Poots said the number of people was "clearly not within the Government's guidelines".

"I would like to see the forest parks open as quickly as possible, but on the basis that people observe the rules and use them purely for walking," he added.

Belfast Telegraph