The Green Party have expressed their deep disappointment at Belfast City Council’s decision to partially sell Belmont Park in East Belfast for redevelopment. Strathearn Grammar School have paid £350,000 to Belfast City Council for the land, which will allow them to expand their hockey pitch facilities – despite the site being situated directly beside CIYMS Sports grounds, as well as neighbouring Ashfield Girls School. On the 28th February over 300 trees were felled as council workers began work in the area.
Many local residents have made it clear they do not feel they were adequately consulted about the original proposal, and have pledged to prevent any further work from taking place. A spokesperson from the recently formed Friends of Belmont Park Group said: “Our main objective now is to halt this work in its tracks. We have consulted with experts and not only is there a significant badger presence in the park, but the meadow itself attracted endangered bird species and many varieties of wild flowers and bees that we believe should have been protected”. The local pressure group has attracted over 200 followers on their Facebook page, and a similar number of people have signed an online petition to stop further work being carried out in the park.
Badgers (Meles) are a protected species, and the area already cleared has revealed an outlier sett, and latrine pit, with many foraging trails. The Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 gives legal protection to any structure or place which a badger uses for shelter or protection, and although the school has now been recommended by their own ecologists to apply for a wildlife license to carry out any activities to safeguard badgers, these licensed activities cannot be carried out during breeding season.
Ross Campbell, the Green Party’s council candidate for Victoria said: “The Green Party has continually pledged its support for the preservation and protection of local green spaces, and we are deeply opposed to the redevelopment of Belmont Park. Residents have been denied a transparent and open consultation process, and we will continue to support their efforts in preventing further damage to the area.”
Ross visited Belmont Park last week to meet with residents and survey the damage to the area, and attended Belfast City Council’s ‘My City, My Neighbourhood’ meeting at the Park Avenue Hotel. The meeting was also attended by MLA Robin Newton, who publicly admitted that he was wrong to support the sale of the park, but also ruled out any possibility of the council buying back the land. He also revealed that the decision had been backed unanimously by cross-party consensus, and admitted that the consultation process had been a dismal failure.
Martin Gregg, Green Party Assembly candidate for East Belfast said: “Having made some initial enquiries, I have been informed that Environmental Heritage were not consulted by Planning Services for this development. Causes like this perfectly highlight the need for local Councils, Councillors and Assembly members to demonstrate a greater level of transparency and honesty. Elected Green Party members would not have approved the decision to sell public land to Strathearn, and we will stand firm with local residents to reverse this illegitimate transaction.”
Friends of Belmont Park on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendsofbelmontpark
Online Petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/belmontpark/