Future of popular Cairn Wood in doubt as on sale to private owners by NI Water

I am shocked to learn that Northern Ireland Water plan to sell a significant portion of the Cairn Wood Forest to the highest bidder with future public access now in doubt.

With woodland cover in Northern Ireland the lowest of any European country (with the exception of Iceland) at 6% we need to be increasing our woodland cover to meet 12% target in 2050 not selling forests to private purchasers. Retaining our forests, and public access arrangements is of paramount importance due to the social, economic and environmental benefits that arise with Cairn Wood an habitat haven enjoyed by many people on a regular basis.

From a previous Freedom of Information request, I was thankfully able to ascertain that the Forests adjoining Ballysallagh Upper Reservoir are operated under a 150 year lease with the Forest Service. Signed in 1964 by Bangor Borough Council, the actions of Northern Ireland Water run contrary to the commitments given by the previous owner (Bangor Borough Council) and are a concerning development. I am appalled that NI Water have decided to embark upon this course of action which is a gross breach of trust after being transferred ownership in the 1970s. NI Water could, however, have overlooked this commitment and if, so, need to apologise and withdraw the land for sale forthwith.

I have written to both the Agriculture and Regional Development Ministers requesting decision to sell this woodland is reversed and hope an urgent reply will be received.

If not, I will again ask the Council to consider exploring opportunities to save the land from falling into private ownership. My original proposal to Ards and North Down Borough Council that a scoping exercise be undertaken via means of an Economic Appraisal, when offered these Reservoirs for sale would have helped identify this issue and explore way to save valuable woodland but sadly it was rejected with expression of interest given for merely two of the reservoirs offered.

More vital changes on way for coastal path

I welcome plans to further develop the North Down Coastal Path. Ards and North Down Borough Council recently agreed to search for funding opportunities to overhaul the latest section of the coastal path – with a new path on the seaward side of the seawall a possibility bypassing the private road and securing the deteriorating seawall.

The coastal path is a vital asset to our beautiful borough and one that we must ensure we make the most of.

In recent years I have successfully lobbied to ensure vital changes were made to the coastal path, allowing for greater access and to benefit all users such as the new section bypassing old Seahill steps.

While North Down is already well-known as a beautiful scenic spot for tourists, there is always more we can do as a borough to attract a greater number of visitors each year. Without action this vital Coastal Path link risks being irreparably damaged by the ravages of the sea.

Alliance is committed to making North Down a better, healthier place to live, work or visit and I would urge all Councillors to get behind these plans.  Hopefully through co-operation we can see the coastal path developed even further, encouraging many more to enjoy it.

Bangor Park could get Green Flag status

Bangor’s Castle Park could soon see it receive Green Flag status.  The national award for public and community parks and greenspaces, the Green Flag award scheme recognises and rewards the best green spaces across the country.

I previously asked that Green Flag status be explored for Ward Park, but with Unionists voting against the idea, the initiative was abandoned.

I’m delighted that an issue I have worked hard to bring to the attention of others has finally been recognised by the new Ards and North Down Council.

Castle Park deserves this award, with many working together to ensure the park remains an area of natural beauty.

We must do everything we can to protect our environment and I hope that when this comes before the Council again, no-one will stand in the way letting this process proceed.

I hope we will see Castle Park join Kiltonga Nature Reserve in gaining Green Flag status.  Now is the time to invest in our environment, creating a green economy that will benefit the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland.