Down District Council Leads In Establishing Public Right Of Way
With currently over 70 asserted ‘public rights of way’, improved roads, paths or tracks suitable for walkers, cyclists, joggers and horse riders, Down is the leading council within Northern Ireland in terms of asserted paths. There are substantial public networks around Castlewellan, Newcastle and Dundrum, and the Saul area.
Speaking about the district’s rights of way and the lengthy, complex process of securing these sites, Down District Council Chairman, Cllr Maria McCarthy said, “Down District Council is keen to consolidate its current public networks to create circular routes, particularly where paths are adjacent to villages and towns or linear routes which link towns and villages.
“Within any one year there are usually at least 15 public rights of way investigations on-going at any one time. During the lengthy process of investigation the whole path must be surveyed, all landowners identified, mapped, and interviewed. Where witnesses are available these individuals need to be interviewed.
“Once all evidence is gathered the Council will take a view, based on all the evidence in totality, and with appropriate legal advice if necessary, regarding whether a public right of way exists. Where there is sufficient evidence to assert a public right of way the Council is obliged under the Access to the Countryside (NI) Order to complete the assertion.
“As well as the assertion of existing public rights of way the Council also has powers under the Order to develop new public access. A good example of this is the development of the well-used footpath around the Quoile known as Jane’s Shore. The Council has aspirations to extend this route as far out as Delamont Country Park.”
Within Down District there are also three long distance waymarked ways: the Lecale Way, the Mourne Way, and the Newcastle Way which passes through land under the control of the National Trust, Forest Service and NI Water as well as public rights of way. Part of these routes coincide with the Ulster Way, a much loved trail in Northern Ireland.
Cllr Carmel O’Boyle, the Council’s Recreation Committee Chairman said: “Since 1983, when the Access to the Countryside (NI) Order was first introduced, Down District Council has made extensive use of this legislation reflecting that the countryside within the area is of high quality and a superb asset.
“Down District Council endeavour to showcase this superb asset at every opportunity through events such as the St Patrick’s Day Walk on the 17 March and the Mourne International Walking Festival in June.
“Mountain Biking is also another element of expanding access to the countryside The with the development of a world class trails centre in Castlewellan Forest Park. Work is also continuing on the expansion of the existing trails and the enhancement of the recreational activities within the forest parks within the district.”
Cllr O’Boyle added: “Other projects which the Council is currently involved in are the Mourne Mountain Landscape Project, a project which is managed by the Mourne Heritage Trust with the aim of reconnecting the people of the Mourne area with their mountain heritage. As a partner in this project we are working on an extension of the existing Granite Trail in Newcastle, as well as interpretation of the Follies and Monuments in Tollymore.”
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