Gasworks Bridge survives rough ride through planning

Belfast’s proposed pedestrian and cycling Gasworks Bridge has been granted planning permission by Belfast City Council, but a row has broken out over last minute Unionist resistance to the project.


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Belfast’s proposed pedestrian and cycling Gasworks Bridge has been granted planning permission by Belfast City Council, but a row has broken out over last minute Unionist resistance to the project.

The Lagan Foot and Cycle Bridge is planned to span the river between Gasworks Park and Ormeau Park, creating a new traffic-free route between south east Belfast and the city centre. The construction cost is estimated at between £7m-£9m and the project was up before the council’s Planning Committee for approval last night, one of the final hurdles to starting construction.

The plans were listed on the meeting agenda  “Approval is recommended subject to conditions.”

Vocal opposition had been almost non-existent since the scheme took off in June 2013 – championed by Regional Development Minister (at the time) Danny Kennedy of the Ulster Unionist Party. The planning meeting was anticipated to be a straightforward exercise.

Rumblings of discontent were perhaps clear in hindsight, initiated by UKIP’s David McNarry who was scathing in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph the day before the meeting:

“This is a white elephant and they have wasted so much money to get it to the various stages. There are so many other things that this department can spend money on, capital money.”

During the meeting all six Unionist councillors present (representing four parties) voted against approval. The plan squeezed through approval by seven votes to six on the back of Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance support.

Although the minutes have yet to be released, rumours started to leak after the meeting ended about the motives behind the opposition.

Bikefast contacted all councillors at the meeting for comment. Christopher Stalford of the DUP responded to outline his opposition:

“I opposed this proposal because I felt there had been a singular lack of consultation with the residents of the lower Ravenhill area. I feel we must be mindful of the views of local communities.”

Emmet McDonough-Brown of the Alliance Party condemned the actions of councillors who voted against the bridge:

“I voted in favour because I believe that it’s crucial to integrate communities in Belfast and stitch together a city which was divided by conflict. Furthermore, it will transform opportunities for cycling and walking between the centre and the south and east of the city and, hopefully, drive further use of Ormeau Park.

“Contrary to the opinions expressed by other members in the committee last night, I believe breaking down physical barriers between communities is positive. People in the lower Ravenhill will benefit from another route into the centre and easier access to opportunities in the Gasworks.

“Unionist councillors united to try and deny the community these benefits and in doing so showed no ambition for Belfast. Over 17 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the narrowness of their focus and the lack of a positive vision for our city is bare for all to see. I believe their constituents, and our city, deserve better.”

At the time of writing no other councillor who voted against the bridge plan had responded to Bikefast’s request for comment.

Councillor David Armitage of the Alliance Party who also voted in favour rejected attempts to link the bridge to potential sectarian violence:

“It had gone through consultation through the DRD and planning service, and no objections were lodged. The bridge will provide more connectivity for Belfast, and especially walkers and cyclists, which fits into the strategy of Belfast becoming more friendly to alternative modes of transport.

“The unionists all voted against the bridge. From the debate they thought that the bridge encouraged sectarian violence and was not needed by their community. But they did not produce any evidence to back these arguments up.

“I see the bridge as a good thing because people travel more for work, education and socially and the bridge should encourage an active lifestyle and also bring down barriers between communities.”

The Gasworks Bridge now awaits a decision on funding which may be more likely after May’s election. With planning permission secured the scheme is shovel-ready and awaits the political green light from Stormont.

More information on the Gasworks Bridge

Lagan Footbridge, Belfast (Northern Ireland Roads Site)

Where is our Gasworks Bridge? (Northern Ireland Greenways)

Planning application for pedestrian and cycling bridge (Belfast City Council)

Lagan pedestrian and cycle bridge (DRD scheme page)



The Gasworks Bridge has been a long term idea to create a new river crossing in Belfast. Firmly proposed as part of the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan in 2000, the plan gained momentum in June 2013 when DRD Minister Danny Kennedy recognised its benefits. It is due to form a key part of developing cycling transport routes through and beyond the city centre when DRD announce their Belfast Cycling Network Plan this spring.

The strong opposition is baffling. The fact that it was wholly Unionist-backed opposition raises difficult questions about how Belfast is moving forward in addressing post-conflict resolution and bringing communities together.

I would be shocked if some Unionist councillors viewed this as a project for Nationalists, being sited beside the Markets and Lower Ormeau Road. It sounds ridiculous when you say it, but this is Belfast and it’s election time so anything is possible. I suspect councillors who rejected this flagship investment will have some tough questions to answer on voters’ doorsteps in East and South Belfast come May.

The Belfast Telegraph article seemed to focus on the lack of confirmed capital funding, which struck many people as strange. This is a common way for major projects to proceed. Take the York Street Interchange project just across Belfast which has just been through a Public Inquiry, has been years in the planning and has taken significant cash to progress to this stage – all with no confirmed funding.

It leaves you with the impression that it’s back to one rule for roads projects, another rule for cycling and walking. Cheap heat for demagogues. It’s a real pity that four other councillors (save Lydia Patterson whose email doesn’t work) who voted against were not able to front up their motives for opposition.

Draw a comparison between the vocal local opposition to a planned student block being discussed in the same planning meeting and you realise how few issues people in local communities have with this project. The interface threat is a red herring.

But the scheme has its planning permission and now needs political will from Stormont to find the necessary budget (pocket change out of an annual £384 million capital budget in the new Department for Infrastructure) to see the bridge built.

This will be an excellent investment for Belfast and it’s shocking to see such a positive vision dragged into the muck of tribal politics.

7 Replies to “Gasworks Bridge survives rough ride through planning”

  1. […] Gasworks Bridge planning proposal was given approval at Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee meeting. It passed despite councillors turning a […]

  2. […] – the inclusion of the Laganside path and site of the sectarian proposed Gasworks Bridge? It needed SDLP support to get through Belfast City Council planning, so can we say the SDLP will support finding the capital funds to build the Gasworks Bridge after […]

  3. […] bridge linking two communities which has transformed this part of Derry – the Peace Bridge. The less said about certain UUP councillors’ views on the the Belfast’s equivalent the b….. (ahem – […]

  4. […] Planning permission was granted in February 2016 and all that stands in the way is capital funding. It lies on the National Cycle Network and would provide a much-needed short cut into the south east of the city – enhancing the already serious modal shift in the top cycling area of Belfast. This one structure is so pivotal to the plans for Belfast’s cycling revolution, it stands as the canary in the coal mine – if it falls, the revolution is in big trouble. […]

  5. […] It passed planning (just) last year and is effectively shovel-ready. It needs between £7m to £9m of capital to realise this transformative project for The Markets and Lower Ravenhill. Without a working government in Northern Ireland it remains a stalled project. […]

  6. […] Plans to build a traffic-free bridge linking from the proposed end of the Ormeau Embankment mean there will be a very practical new east-west route opened in place of the north-south vehicle carriageway. Original options for the bridge included an extended bridge over the road to link safely into the park. Cutting the road offers a very simple solution to this problem. […]

  7. […] to take forward the £7m Gasworks Bridge now. This bridge, which has been pushed down the priority list by DfI over the last 5 years, is both the lynchpin for the Belfast Bicycle Network and a project to open up South and East […]

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