Residents in Co Antrim coastal town trying to reach forbidden beach
GRAEME COUSINS learns about a beach in Co Antrim that has proven to be inaccessible for people living beside it
During lockdown people around the Province have been discovering amazing outdoor spaces on their doorsteps that they never knew existed.
As demand for a breath of fresh air continues to exceed supply, some residents of a coastal town in Co Antrim have found themselves cut off from a prime location.
A group of neighbours from the Old Shore Road area of Greenisland are frustrated that all their access routes to the shore have been closed off at a time when they most need access to open space.
One of the members of that group who have been campaigning using the hashtag #ShareTheShore is Dr Shane McKee. He said: “We’ve been campaigning on and off for this for a few years now, but previously at a very low level – a neighbour would write to the council every so often, and nothing would ever happen.
“There is a stretch of shoreline that people used to access between Station Road in Greenisland and Seapark, towards Carrick – it’s the section of the Shore Road that has now been bypassed by the new dual carriageway.
“Before the carriageway, the Shore Road was one of the busiest in NI. You’d be taking your life in your hands to cross it. Before it got so busy, people used to access the shore at three main points.”
Shane said that two of the access points – a Public Right of Way and a slipway – had been blocked off by property owners.
He said: “The third, an ideal lane leading to an old slipway at Jointure Bay, has been gated off by NI Water.
“These access points have all been closed off for quite a number of years – certainly over 15 – but this was never really a problem because neighbours could always get access to the beach via a derelict property. However that has now been closed off too, so the only points of access to the shore are all the way up to Trooperslane beach near Carrick, or all the way down to Shorelands near Jordanstown. Those two points are nearly two miles apart.
“It means residents and visitors are denied access to some really lovely shoreline that makes a beautiful walk at low tide. When the tide is up, it’s really not accessible, but the problem then is there is a danger to people on the beach of being cut off and not able to get back to the road, since the exits from the beach are not accessible.”
Shane, who is a consultant in Genetics and Genomic medicine at the Northern Ireland Regional Genetics Service and also Chief Clinical Information Officer for the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, said: “Since the dual carriageway considerably reduced traffic along this section of Shore Road, neighbours have been getting out into the fresh air, to find that access to the beach, which as foreshore they have every right to be on, has now been closed off. Only people who have property hitting onto the beach can access this now, unless the tide is very low, in which case you can access along the beach itself.”
Shane said that when the residents’ group approached NI Water, they were told the slipway at Jointure Bay was gated off for safety reasons.
He commented: “These safety concerns are really rather ridiculous, given the existing arrangements they have for the public accessing their other properties in the Mournes, Woodburn, etc.
“We’ve even had councillors from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council down to take a look, and they were amazed that we don’t have access to the beach. They have been working hard, as has our MLA Stewart Dickson, to get the Department of Infrastructure to look at this.”
Recently Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon visited the beach to listen to residents’ concerns.
Shane said: “What we’d like to see is some remedial work done to the old slipway, which used to be a wrack road, where farmers would access the beach to harvest seaweed to use as fertiliser many years ago. Some signage to tell people to watch their step, respect the beach and the wildlife, take their litter home with them, etc.
“With Covid, people need something to help their mental health. Many residents of Greenisland have never even been down to the shore, or even seen the Green Island (which gives the town its name), which is pretty crazy when you think about it.
“And of course physical health from exercise is really important too. The tide comes in and goes out, keeping the beach itself really clean, and you get great views of seals, sea birds, the Stena going past.
“As for me, I live down here on the Shore Road, the land side. I take my wee beagle Charlee for walks down there pretty much every weekend or when I’m off, and she loves it – so do I. But we’re forced to access it via climbing the fence, which is far from ideal, and probably not strictly allowed.
“Of course I want everyone to be able to access it. We know it will not result in a mass influx – the beach further along at Trooperslane is accessible and is not over-used.
“Similarly ‘The Gut’ is an access point (Public Right of Way) at Shorelands on the Belfast side, down mainly onto the rocks, and again it is not over-used.
“It’s not that there would be a huge influx of people, but it’s important for people’s mental and physical health that they get out and about, especially now.”
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said the public right of way at a property on the Shore Road is currently under investigation and for that reason it is unable to comment further.
With regard to the slipway, a spokesperson said: “The land is owned by NI Water and council are discussing potential options for public access.”
NI Water was asked if it had any plans to upgrade the slipway. A spokesperson said: “Health and safety is of paramount importance to NI Water. Discussions on the matter of access to the slipway are ongoing between NI Water and Mid & East Antrim Borough Council. While a decision on access is still being negotiated, NI Water would like to thank the local community for their patience and cooperation.”
Shane said: “I think there is a pretty major issue here across NI – public access to open spaces for exercise, enjoyment and betterment of mental health. There is a long and sad history of landowners closing off historic rights-of-way, and forcing everyone into smaller and smaller spaces. We have some of the most spectacular countryside on the planet – we should showcase it, and of course #ShareTheShore.”
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