Thursday 09 May 2019 11:48:20 AM

Greencastle Ferry Issue Spills Over As MLA’s Have Concerns Over Road Plans
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“Residents of Greencastle had the opportunity on Friday 9 May to discuss openly, at some length, the issue of the proposed ferry with elected MLA’s.

Invited by the Greencastle Area Residents Group (GARG), three MLA’s were in attendance on the evening: Sean Rogers MLA (SDLP), John Mc Callister MLA (NI21) and Jim Wells MLA (DUP), along with over 20 Greencastle residents. Apologies were sent from Karen McKevitt MLA (SDLP) and Catríona Ruane (Sinn Féin).

Greencastle residents have the support of local MLA's in their concerns over roads issues.

Greencastle residents have the support of local MLA’s in their concerns over roads issues.

GARG spokesperson Christine Gibson said: “For over an hour, both residents and MLA’s present were engaged in analysing the current issues faced locally in Greencastle, and in the wider suburban Mourne area. The discussion covered from highlighting implications of increased two-way traffic with a possible 40 cars travelling each way at peak times on narrow bridges and in front of primary schools on the main routes to the A2,  to one resident who was denied permission from Road Services to lay kerbs within their property boundary.

“Road Services justified this decision by saying that ‘kerbs on rural roads less than 5.5m wide should be refused … in accordance with our Environment Policy’. It was pointed out that the road in fact Greencastle is characterised by numerous narrow sections (where resident properties stand) well below the required 5.5m for two way traffic. In addition, not one part of the road allows for a 6.1m-wide allowance which is required for the safe passing of two larger vehicles, such as tractors, buses and lorries, all of which currently use the road.”

GARG Chairperson, Diarmuid Cahill explained: “The developers had known since the very beginning that the lack of adequate road infrastructure was by far the biggest concern for residents. However, the plans for road ‘upgrades’ were only made available to residents days before the official planning application was submitted- and on plans printed so small they were barely legible”. Residents in attendance also noted that there had been no independent survey undertaken and that the Planning Office only referred to surveys carried out by the Applicants themselves.

“The GARG overwhelmingly agreed that the proposal was inappropriate; that the plans were ill-conceived, (particularly those described by the developer as road ‘upgrades’) and that communication between the applicant and the residents had been notably lacking, (in fact they had not accepted any GARG meeting invite since February 2013). It was also noted that a resident farming family who would be directly and adversely affected by the project, was, to date, not contacted by any representative of the Applicant.

“John Mc Callister MLA took the opportunity of the meeting to state his agreement with residents that a massive infrastructure investment would be needed to facilitate this project both in the immediate Greencastle area and surrounding routes towards the A2 in both easterly and westerly directions. He highlighted that the plans propose only to introduce very limited road widening sites and a small number of passing bays on the Greencastle Pier Road. To ensure buses, emergency services, agricultural vehicles could pass safely, it was advised that these upgrades must include as a minimum widening along the full length of the road to allow safe passing of two vehicles.  Worryingly, nothing had been brought to the table to date to address the large increase in traffic on the main routes around Mill Bay and towards Kilkeel.

“In light of the high volume of traffic (40 cars each-way up to 12 times a day in the peak summer season), residents are calling for substantial roads upgrades to ensure safety of residents and visitors alike if this project is approved.

“Referring to a list of similar ferry projects which have either failed or are running at a loss (some being managed by the same developers), Jim Wells MLA cautioned that the inevitable economic failure of this project would necessitate the Government stepping in to rescue it. In response, the GARG members voiced concern over having to live with a legacy that needed public money to break even.

“The MLA’s listened to residents’ fears that that the ‘perceived greater good’ of a conduit betwen North Aand South of this project will be prioritised ( to the detriment and destruction of wildlife (including bats, seals and terns) and beautiful landscapes enjoyed in Greencastle.  one of the few remaining un-commercialised, un-industrialised and undeveloped rural coastal communities that the Mourne area can be proud of.

“Mr Wells also recognised what he described as the ‘charm and uniqueness’ of the area. MLAs were reminded that this was the very reason this idyllic location was chosen last year for the filming of “Our Robot Overlords”.

“It was also noted that Greencastle tourists came by horse, car, bicycle (Greencastle is landmarked as being part of the national cycle network), and on foot, making it difficult to accept the rational for increasing traffic to this extent for the sake of “tourism.

“It is the intention of the Group to host meetings between residents and MLA’s Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Fein) and Karen McKevitt (SDLP) in the near future to increase awareness and build support to prevent this proposal from being agreed and ruining the beautiful and unspoilt landscape of Greencastle.

“And Sean Rogers MLA explained that the Final Decision rests with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan MLA and he said the decision-making process is currently with the Divisional Roads Manager of Road Services.”

Mr Cahill also pointed out that the Government’s Regional Development Strategy (RDS) seeks to ‘promote a balanced approach that safeguards tourism infrastructure while benefitting society and the economy’.

Christine Gibson, PR Officer of GARG added: “Would Minister  Mark H Durkan envisage this project as one that supports our crucial tourism industry, or is the whole aim of what the Applicants are proposing as ‘benefitting tourism’, a paradox in itself?”

The Proposal in more detail:

The proposed construction of ferry terminal facilities adjacent to 80 Greencastle Pier Road, Greencastle, in County Down to allow operation of a vehicular ferry across the mouth of Carlingford Lough. The proposed works include the construction of a reinforced concrete suspended pier (58 metres long), supported by vertical tubular piles and a reinforced concrete slipway (70 metres long) to allow vehicular access to the Ferry and 12 berthing piles with fenders and steel gangway to facilitate berthing and tying up of vessels overnight, new access and hardstand for parking and queuing, kiosk for office and ancillary staff facilities, drainage and landscape proposals; Upgrade and widening to parts of the Greencastle Pier Road and provision of passing bays; floating navigational marks anchored to the bed of the Lough and laid at the edges of the navigable channel to delineate appropriate channel boundaries or to mark shallow rock outcrops and provide for safety of navigation.