THE row over the future of the Strangford village green continues as Councillor Cadogan Enright (Independent) has backed the local residents opposed to the Council proposal.
He said: “Following a meeting I had with the Strangford Community Association, they agreed that they had met with the Council Director of Building Estates, Marie Ward and her staff and reviewed her proposals back in 2011. However, the residents explained to her then that what Council was proposing was ‘way off the mark’, and would render the lower green unusable for the community. Therefore, they were very surprised when an almost identical plan re-emerged as part of the Mournes Coastal Route plan.
“The Down Rural Area Partnership has since funded a Village Plan which, following much local consultation, is widely supported by the community. It also has the backing of the Strangford’s Festival Committee, the Inverbrena Hall committee and local sports and other clubs.
“This Association sees the lower village green continuing as the centre of village life at the heart of the community and recognise it can be used for a wide range of activities such as the annual village festival; the annual fun-fair; the mobile cinema which visits Strangford regularly; a mustering point for groups arriving in Strangford before embarkation on the Ferry; as a recreation area for picnics, children playing etc; as a scenic display area for vintage cars during their visits; as a place to put the big marque tent for big groups of tourists eg the bicycle tour that regularly calls in Strangford for refreshments; and as a (free) launching and recovery area for boats belonging to local people also for visiting tourists and the emergency services (police, coastguard and fire services) alike.
This has been made more difficult these last two years as Council has turned it into an unofficial car-park for people, when there is a ferry car park only a short distance away.
“When I shared the Director’s plan with the community members, there was a very negative reaction. Key local objections included:
* Disagreement over her effective change of use from the green’s traditional use as a common area.
* Fencing off the green and surrounding it with shrubs would eliminate almost all the uses the green is currently put to, outlined above. The proposed shrubs would have to be resistant to regular salt water flooding!
* Putting a giant piece of public art in the centre of the tiny bit of green space remaining would wipe out the lower green as a usable social space.
* The residents were not happy also about losing green grass on the seaward side. They saw no purpose in paving over the green area. The area beside the quay has been strengthened and protected with a plastic matrix material that allows grass to grow though whilst preventing damage. The community are happy with this arrangement as it facilitates the lower green as a flexible space that can be used for multiple purposes – extending up from the water during the boat launching season – or reaching down to seaward to create a bigger recreation area for children or for events being held on the green.
* The proposed fencing and shrubbery would block the drive-in entrance on the village side prevent ingress and exit by vehicles like vintage cars, fairground vehicles and so forth.
* No-one seems to want the ‘public art’. If we have to have it they suggest it could go on the upper green which is already used for ornamental purposes – the community does not want the lower green to be converted to another ornamental space as proposed by Council
* The Strangford Committee plan envisaged the area where the old bus stop used to be (outside Kevin Óg’s shop) being set back to accomodate buses without blocking traffic. Local people DO NOT WANT the two cherry trees to be cut down as envisaged by the Council Plan, The Council plan incorrectly labels the ferry shelter as a bus shelter in its plan, this is not a bus-stop. The local community regards the new ferry shelter as an eyesore and worse than useless as a protection from the elements, and wants the old shelter in the ferry terminal to be re-opened.
* People are concerned that the paddling area is marked as ‘redevelopment’. This area needs its pebble beach renewed, but does not need redeveloped. The Association noted that sand attracts oil from the ferry and elsewhere, but pebbles stay clean
* The Director’s compromise Council diagram simply removes the formalisation of car-parking in place of illegal parking on the green. This is not enough of a concession – the community needs the maximum amount of green space for the lower green to facilitate its traditional purposes – and the purpose envisaged in the Strangford Village Plan – ie being the heart of the local community,”
Cllr Enright added: “Given that Council Management appears determined to press ahead with their plan, only a consensus by councillors which states that the key aspects of the Strangford Village plan must be observed, is likely to stop management pressing ahead against the clearly articulated views of the local community, as expressed in their village plan.
“Councillors therefore need to collectively tell the Mournes Coastal Project team that they have got it badly wrong in Strangford, and to remove the points objected to above – and include the proposals in the DRAP-funded village plan.”
“However, a Down District Council spokesperson explained: “Down District Council is delighted to have secured £230,000 of funding for the development of the Strangford Green area. This funding has been the result of a process which started in 2011 with a consultation event held in Strangford Community Hall.
“The Council will be using the funding to create an iconic area in Strangford which can be used by the community and tourists. The development will include resurfacing of the area at the slipway, railings around the green, installation of picnic benches and new interpretive and directional signage, resurfacing of pathways around the green and installation of public art.
“We are also delighted to be able to use the funding to create a pocket garden in the area where the old bus stop was, this will be carried out in partnership with local schools. We have been working with a local historian to detail the interpretive signage.
“This development in Strangford is Phase 3 of the creation of the Mourne Coastal Route and is being carried out in partnership with Ards Borough Council. The development is one of 11 sites in this £1million project. The Mourne Coastal Route project crosses three Council districts, Newry & Mourne, Down District and Ards Borough.
“The development will provide a secure and safe place for families to enjoy the beauty of Strangford Lough.”