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Alex Easton's objection to Planning

We are delighted to see local MLAs stepping up to support our calls for a rethink on this venture, and a respectful custodianship of the natural environment. Alex Easton's recent letter of objection to the Planning Portal is published below in full:

To the Planning Department Dear Sir/Madam Re: Planning application LA06/2020/0530/F Proposed greenway for approximately 31.5km following the existing North Down Coastal Path from Kinnegar to Bangor in the most part and then the A2 to The Commons Park, Donaghadee. After a lot of consideration, I can now state that I am opposed to the application to place a Greenway on the North Down Coastal Path. As an elected representative, I have heard concerns of local people and taken the opportunity to walk on several parts of the path. It is clear to me that the proposals conflict with the needs of local people and also will be potentially detrimental to the tourist appeal for this area. The area on the seaward part of the path and including the path itself holds many designations which are in place to protect the coastal environment here from inappropriate development. Planning Policy Statement 2 is in place to protect our natural heritage, defined as “the diversity of our habitats, species, landscapes and earth science features”. Throughout this policy statement it is clear that the preservation of biodiversity is paramount, as well as the protection of habitats for our wildlife. This area is home to many species of overwintering, resting and nesting birds, including species listed in the legislation for protection, such as Turnstone. The landward side of this path contains ever-diminishing habitat for mammals such as badgers and a small population of pine martens. There are also otters frequently photographed in the Lough which I am advised are likely to nest near Greypoint Fort. As well as walking the area, I have now taken the time to look at the plans in some locations in great detail, and I conclude that there is a lot more coastal land to be both cleared and disrupted than I had at first understood. A more positive use of public money could be used on repairing the parts of this amenity that have been requiring attention for many years in order to facilitate the hundreds of thousands of users who currently enjoy it for recreation and as a tourist amenity. This can be undertaken as part of Council’s standard responsibility without the intensive work outlined in this planning application. Developing the path to Greenway specifications would certainly involve the degradation of this natural environment. I believe strongly in the promotion of cycling as an alternative form of transport, and the funding for Greenways and other cycling paths should be used in areas which pass through the towns or villages and can be easily used to replace the car with a bicycle for short journeys as well as linking the Greenways for longer cycle rides or commutes if necessary. Emphasis should also be placed on ensuring that cyclists can access public transport such as trains and the current limits on bicycles on trains could be removed. In this way, the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland is more likely to be met in terms of linking all schools and business to safe bicycle transport. In summary, my objection is that the damage to this path, both to the natural environment and to the experience of the community of current users is greater than the benefits such a scheme could bring to a much smaller number of people. The coastal path can be maintained for reasonable, respectful bicycle access by concentrating on the small number of areas in which bicycles, prams and pedestrians can’t safely get by. The coastal path should be promoted as a very slow pace area for sightseeing and the enjoyment of the natural world and the inland paths used as a conduit for active travel. Yours sincerely, Alex Easton MLA

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