Council commits more funding to Antrim boardwalk extension despite residents' reservations

ANTRIM and Newtownabbey Borough Council has agreed to commit over £90,000 towards economic appraisals for a number of major projects, including an extension to the Antrim boardwalk and sprucing up Fountain Street shop fronts.

Council officers recently met with representatives of Department for Communities to discuss potential upcoming public realm schemes and opportunities for investment.

No design work has been undertaken on these schemes to date.

As well as projects in Glengormley and Whiteabbey, one of the schemes is a £450,000 plan for Fountain Street with a £300k spend in 2019/2020 and a £150k spend in 2021/2022.

There will be possible DfC funding of £100,000 over the two years, with council funding of £350,000 required.

The likely development costs to secure a DfC investment decision is £10,000.

Another project is the Antrim Boardwalk, with 150 metres of timber boardwalk from Bridge Street to Riverside on the agenda.

The overall budged is £700k with a £414k spend in year one and £286k in year two.

There will be possible DfC funding of £400k, possible funding from Antrim Town Development Company of £200,000, with council required to contribute £14k in year one and £86k in year two.

The likely development cost to secure a DfC investment decision is £14k.

At last week’s meeting of council’s Community Planning and Regeneration Partnership, members were told that March 2022 sees the end of the current Comprehensive Spending Review period and as a result DfC officials are very unlikely to commit capital budgets for expenditure beyond this date.

A report said: “This creates a spend pressure on both the Department and the organisations they fund.

“Some of the projects proposed are both large and technically complex capital schemes requiring extensive consultation.

“To stand any chance of securing DfC investment and hitting the required spend profiles, council must commission initial design work, site investigations, surveys and economic appraisals.

“This requires council to invest a revenue expenditure which, for all the schemes, equates to around £159k.

“This investment has the potential to release up to £3.85m of partnership funding for the physical improvement of the Borough.”

In March 2017 Council approved a £104k capital development fund and since that time £37k has been committed to project development costs.

This leaves a remaining fund of £67k and a need for an additional £92k in order to develop the schemes.

Members subsequently agreed to release £92,000 for the development of the schemes to economic appraisal.

DUP group leader Phillip Brett said that the money was ‘a minor investment’ compared to the millions of pounds which the projects could help generate.

He said that other areas which did not have ‘town status’ but which were ‘equally important’ deserved to be on the list.

UUP group leader Mark Cosgrove said that it was ‘an investment we have to make’, saying that funding of almost £4m would be ‘game-changing’.

SDLP rep Roisin Lynch said that funding would only be available if projects were ‘shovel-ready’ and welcomed the inclusion of the Boardwalk and Fountain Street projects in the list.

The plans for the Boardwalk extension came before the Planning Committee of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in October.

The current boardwalk comes to an abrupt end just short of the listed Massereene Bridge, but the Antrim Towns Development Company want it to continue right under the second arch and along Riverside as far as number 16.

In total, the application spans 160 metres.

There have been no objections from any of the statutory consultees, including the Historic Environment Division, DFI Rivers and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, but some residents remain uneasy.

Nine letters have been received to date, voicing concerns about noise, loss of privacy and anti-social behaviour.

The new extension will be in two parts, with one passing under the arch of the bridge and measuring approximately 80 metres, with the second roughly the same size extending further upstream into the Antrim Conservation Area.

At the meeting, Simon Moon from Antrim Town Development Company said that locals could use the boardwalk to access the town centre, particularly those coming from Riverside and the Belmont Road and Six Mile Water Mill developments.

Michael Corr of PLACE, Northern Ireland’s Centre for the Built Environment and the architect behind the scheme, said that the boardwalk extension was one of a number of projects earmarked for Antrim town which focused on maximising the potential of the natural and built heritage of the area.

Mr Corr, who has worked on major projects in Belfast and London, said that the area along the river was poorly utilised, lacked connectivity and needed to be improved.

He said that the existing structure was not well accessed by the disabled and elderly, was slippery in wet conditions and was essentially a route between ‘two dead ends - this is not good for public spaces’.

Mr Corr said that in his experience on a number of projects, increased use and natural surveillance ‘cuts down on anti-social behaviour’ and displaces it to another area.

It is also hoped that the Boardwalk extension will encourage tourists, create better flow between the town and Castle Gardens and help ‘open up’ shops and restaurants which currently back on to the river.

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