Fears of DRD land sell-off along Comber Greenway cycle trail after fence is erected
Users of the Comber Greenway cycle path fear Stormont could be poised to sell off a ribbon of land along its edge to landowners whose properties back onto the route. They took to Twitter to express concerns after a security fence was erected along the verge of the seven-mile path near Sandown Road.
There are concerns that the fence behind property at Kirkliston Park could be a "land grab", but a spokesman for the Department for Regional Development said it had been built on its land with its permission.
He said following an attempted arson attack, the landowner had contacted the department seeking permission to erect a fence. Permission for a temporary fence had been granted.
However, Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane said questions needed to be answered after a DRD representative told her the fence may become permanent if the land is sold to the property owner.
"Apparently, now that the area plan has changed and the greenway will not be a bus route, the embankment will be available relatively soon for private sale and it is expected that the new owners of the house will purchase the DRD land at the end," she said.
"The fence is really quite close to the path and if people did that all the way along both sides, instead of a nice open space you would have a tunnel to walk and cycle along."
PUP councillor John Kyle said Belfast City Council was looking at creating green corridors to encourage people to be more active.
"It seems complete foolishness to me to consider selling off strips of one of the most used and valued pieces of public space to raise a few thousand pounds at most - shortsightedness writ large," he said.
Sustrans deputy director Steven Patterson said: "Any suggestion to sell off part of the greenway would be strongly resisted by the wider community as the green spaces and trees are integral to the greenway experience."
DRD said no decision can be made on the long-term future of the Comber Greenway until the official status of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan was determined.
"Any disposal of land would require the formal abandonment of all protection lines and be subject to consultation with local councils," a spokesman said.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy told the Assembly he had no plans to sell off part of the embankment.
"Frankly, it would make no sense for my department to start selling off parts of the Comber Greenway, given the exciting plans that we have, in conjunction with others, to develop it," he said.
Ms Cochrane said she would continue to liaise with the department to make sure there was no scope for a land grab.
The Comber Greenway is a seven-mile traffic-free section of the National Cycle Network along the old Belfast to Comber rail line. It provides a green corridor from Comber to the heart of east Belfast with views of Stormont, Scrabo Tower and the Belfast Hills. The trail is a haven for wildlife, with areas of conservation such as the River Enler.