Public voices must be heard
One of our major concerns in relation to this planning application is the weakness of demonstrated demand for a widening and straightening scheme at the inception of the whole initiative. Couple with that the 400+ well articulated objections on the planning portal at time of writing, and what is approaching 4000 signatories to the two separate petitions that local people felt sufficiently shocked into starting, and you have a picture of a very unwelcome development of a much-loved public asset.
For a borough with a population of around 160000 people, dealing with a coastline whose various attractions have documented combined footfall statistics of just under 1 million visitors per year, it is beyond shocking that this initiative is built on the responses of around 115 "positive comments" made after a "consultation" exercise held in inadequate circumstances over a few weeks in 2019. The applicant, in defence of this low-number response, have asserted that they have met the threshold of legal responsibility to advertise and consult and will point towards a leaflet drop of some 20,000 homes or premises near the North Down Coastal Path.
The fact that it meets the bar of minimum legal requirement is of extremely little comfort when it comes to the impact these changes are going to have on the experience of the million visitors who will seek to escape again, on every subsequent year, from their urban surroundings into this rugged coastal terrain.
The objections on the planning portal, the letters continuously in The Spectator and the existence of these petitions are evidence of a strongly held feeling that the coastal environment, and this winding path through it are valued in their current form. We stand to lose too much of what makes this place special and precious to so many people, if a development is pushed through on the basis of very thin evidence of demand.
As the council go forward with new listening exercises it is very important that one viable outcome on the table must be that the path is retained in its current character. The Ballymacormick Point section has been left untouched and the greenway route moved inland, therefore offering a solution to suit both a fast cycling requirement, and the conservation of the wild, winding beauty of the natural coastline. This is why we have always maintained that an alternative path for cycling, inland would create a solution that really does provide the "best of both" approach. The cycling opportunities within our borough would attract cyclists who would view North Down as a truly 'cycle friendly' location to visit, and the beautiful, unspoilt coastline would retain its natural integrity and its importance as protected area of biodiversity.
The council have to actually hear what the public want for this public land, and be prepared to respond.