Like this site? Help us to make it better.

“Cyclists welcome – just in the right place”: Coastal path upgrades set to be shelved over concerns about environmental impact and “speedy cyclists”

Campaigners say the plans “short-change cyclists who want to commute quickly”, fuelling tensions with walkers, and that a “more appropriate inland route” should be created

Plans to upgrade a popular coastal path are set to be shelved after local councillors raised concerns about the project’s environmental impact and the prospect of increasing tensions between walkers and cyclists riding “at speed”.

The proposed changes to the 20-mile-long greenway, which stretches from Holywood to Donaghadee along the picturesque Co. Down coast, include widening the path in certain places, resurfacing works, and the creation of two pedestrian and cycle bridges.

Supporters of the planned upgrades say the changes would enhance the health and wellbeing of the area as well as attracting more visitors.

A public consultation on the proposals, which form part of a broader plan to create a bike path network in North Down and the Ards peninsula, found that 76 percent of those surveyed were supportive of the upgrades, while 79 percent believed that the development would be “positive” for the area.

76 percent of the residents consulted said that they used the existing path, and the same amount said they were satisfied with it. Meanwhile, 85 percent said they would use the redeveloped path.

“This research shows that a majority of residents, and existing users of the North Down Coastal Path, are supportive of the council’s proposal to develop a coastal path/greenway from Kinnegar Holywood to Donaghadee,” a report from Ards and North Down Borough Council, the local authority behind the plans, states.

“If the coastal path were to be developed in line with the council’s proposal, the research suggests that there will be increased use among residents, with almost all current users saying they too would use the path.”

However, despite this broad support, the plans appear set to be shelved after the council’s two largest parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the cross-community Alliance Party, both called for the project to be reconsidered this week.

Yesterday, the Alliance Party called for the planning application to be withdrawn, and claimed that the consultation process had been badly handled by the council.

The DUP’s Assembly member for North Down, Stephen Dunne, also criticised the scheme on Twitter, writing: “The North Down Coastal Path is a wonderful local amenity enjoyed by thousands all year round. Its uniqueness must be preserved. Council needs to think again and get a new way forward.”

Independent councillor Ray McKimm has submitted a proposal for the current planning application to be scrapped, to allow for significant changes to be made.

“What I am proposing is that we withdraw the application to incorporate changes that the public clearly want,” the councillor told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Due to the radical nature of the changes, tweaking the existing application is not an option. The democratic process must be followed and it’s important that people know that they have been heard.”

The opposition to the scheme within the council comes after a residents group launched a petition, which has so far attracted over 3,000 signatures, urging the local authority to “go back to the drawing board” and create a completely separate path for cyclists.

The group, ‘For Another Path’, say that the plans will damage the local environment, while also claiming that the widened path will encourage cyclists to travel “at speed” alongside walkers, increasing tensions between the path’s users.

“Ards and North Down Councillors are considering an application to widen and adapt our coastal path to enable greatly increased cycling numbers, encouraging cyclists to commute to Belfast,” the group said.

“Hundreds of walkers and leisure cyclists already share and enjoy the North Down Coastal Path every day, but these plans would destroy its natural character and have a devastating impact on the marine environment and the experience of people on the path.

“If approved, the planning application would widen the path by tree felling, increasing tarmac cover and adding costly concrete and metal bridges. Almost worse than this, it short-changes the cyclists it is meant to serve who want to commute quickly and safely by bike.”

The group continued: “The proposed route is long, indirect and cyclists will have to look out for and give way to pedestrians. Rather than delivering top-quality cycle lanes (as near Carrickfergus), the council has planned a fast ‘mini-road’ that will permanently spoil the spirit of natural wildness at the heart of the coastal path’s appeal to the community.

“Tensions between cyclists and walkers are already being expressed. Our aim is to reduce this and find a solution that works for everyone who loves the path.

“We are a group of individuals who love the path. Some like walking, some prefer cycling, and some do both. It is not simply a ‘route’; it is a place where people can replenish their mental health while taking gentle exercise.

“We believe a solution must have twin goals: to preserve the coastal path in all its natural beauty and to provide for cyclists to go at speed, unimpeded, on a more appropriate inland route.”

Despite For Another Path’s apparent concern for “short-changed” cyclists, a public meeting in Donaghadee on Tuesday concerning the proposals saw a number of opponents of the scheme refer to “speedy cyclists”, as well as the potential for “conflict” with pedestrians and dog walkers.

One local cyclist has told that much of the opposition to the council’s proposals stems from anti-cycling and NIMBY attitudes.

“Upgrading the path would have been a fantastic opportunity for a nice flat commute into Belfast from the Ards Peninsula,” reader Andrew said. “Unfortunately the NIMBYs have been out in force on this one.

“It’s funny because it’s people living in the big houses overlooking the sea complaining about a council wanting to do something good and make it nicer for everyone to enjoy.

“Anywhere else in the world would have done this years ago.

“It’s rickety old stone and gravel path, but listening to the public opinion at [Tuesday’s] meeting you would think they were wanting to flatten the Giant's Causeway!”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

Latest Comments