Residents tell council to stick its hockey pitch plan
The “destruction of a wildflower meadow” to make way for a series of school hockey pitches appears to be set in stone — despite a vocal protest by local residents.
The selling off of the “much loved” green space in Belmont Park to Strathearn School for its sports facility extension, has left many residents in the area outraged by “the devastation this has brought on wildlife” — not least the local badger population.
At the city council’s ‘My City, My Neighbourhood’ consultation on Tuesday (March 22) in east Belfast, over 40 local residents, including the group ‘Friends of Belmont Park’ turned out to protest at the works.
Afterwards, DUP MLA Robin Newton contacted Education Minister Caitríona Ruane to see if work could be halted to ensure the protection of badger setts.
“I was told the contract had been let and if there is any delay in the works it would be the Department of Education that would have to incur the penalties,” Mr Newton said.
“In light of the budget considerations, halting the work therefore, was not deemed possible.”
He said the contractor had agreed to meet with representatives of ‘Friends of Belmont Park’ and consider their views.
He added: “I have been told the school did carry out a wildlife assessment before the work was carried out and they are still in the measurement stage.”
Karen Breene, of Friends of Belmont Park, said: “Our main objective remains to halt this work in its tracks and appeal to the school to not build hockey pitches on this site. One of the requirements Belfast City Council demanded was that the plans ensured the local community can use the sports facilities in the development — well I’m sorry but I don’t think many people in the local area will be picking up their hockey sticks. This area is already well provided for with hockey pitches located at CIYMS and a number of other schools in the local area.
“We have consulted with experts and not only is there a significant badger presence in the park, but the meadow itself attracted endangered bird species and many varieties of wild flowers and bees that we believe should have been protected.
“The Alliance Party has confirmed on the group’s behalf that no bio-diversity study was done, and that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency was not involved pre-approval of the planning permission given to the school.”
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “The decision was taken by committee and we have now transferred the land on the basis that the facility has wide community access and use and this is enshrined in the legal agreement. There has been significant political support for this transfer to support the scheme over the years.
“As a condition of the sale, the school agreed that the local community will have access to the new sports facilities once building work is complete.
“We will also be undertaking work to enhance the biodiversity of the park and have plans in place to plant trees and a wildflower meadow.”