Planning permission for a key walking and cycling bridge in Belfast will run out in 2021 if work does not start, cycling groups and a cross-party group of Northern Ireland Assembly Members have warned.
The Lagan Pedestrian and Cycle bridge is expected to cost between £7 and £9 million to build. It would connect the Ormeau Park area of the city to Belfast city centre through the Gasworks Business Park. Campaigners say it would “dramatically improve connectivity from the southeast of the city”.
The bridge gained planning permission in 2016 and funding for the project was included as part of the Belfast Region City Deal, a planned UK government infrastructure investment package of £350m over 15 years.
In a joint statement, the South Belfast Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) Clare Bailey (Green Party), Paula Bradshaw (Alliance), Claire Hanna (SDLP) and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Sinn Féin) said: “Building this bridge would open up the potential for many more people to walk or cycle into the city for work, to shop or for leisure. It is the only City Deal-referenced project which has planning permission and should be green-lighted now.”
They added: “This bridge will reduce traffic congestion, air pollution and improve residents’ health and wellbeing. It would also connect different parts of the city, boost user numbers in Ormeau Park and encourage more pedestrians and cyclists to use the Lagan towpath.”
Campaign group, Bikefast, commented: “As the only major project in the City Deal package which is effectively shovel-ready it could have been the lead-off project. Instead no-one has been able to say when it will break ground, or even if it will be constructed. The planning permission issue may serve to sharpen minds, but even if the money is under Belfast City Council’s control the actual delivery is going to be down to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and that’s usually where active travel projects goes to die, slowly and painfully.”
Bikefast said that MLAs and city councillors had a number of questions to ask, named: “Is there a date for construction to begin, even indicative? Does the decision to green light the project lie with Belfast City Council or DfI? If there is a hold-up, what is it? Finance? Priority?”
Ashley Hunter, director of Sustrans Northern Ireland, said: “Given the serious problems of car congestion in the city, we welcome the cross-party support for this bridge which will have a transformative effect on south Belfast by boosting walking and cycling. There is no reason why construction work should not begin straight away to complete this project.
Hunter added: “We would also like this bridge to be a catalyst for the full implementation of the Belfast Bicycle Network to provide safe cycling infrastructure, encouraging people out of their cars and making Belfast a truly sustainable, resilient city fit for the 21st century.”