Belfast Council is looking at creating new pathways and access around Strangford Playing Fields in South Belfast.
Elected representatives agreed to a proposal by Sinn Féin Councillor Councillor Geraldine McAteer to commission a report regarding access paths to the Strangford Playing Fields from Glenveagh Special School, and for a new purpose built path within the park for the school and the wider community.
Representatives from the school will give a deputation to Belfast City Council ’s People and Communities Committee next month on the proposal for new access to the park, which is located off Malone Hill Park, close to Malone road and Balmoral Avenue.
Strangford Playing Fields is situated across the road from Glenveagh Special Education school. Glenveagh shares a campus with three other special education needs schools: Harberton Special School, Fleming Fulton and Oakwood School.
The council update report published this week states: “Outdoor space at the school campus is extremely constrained particularly given the large number of attendees at the schools and the special needs.
“Strangford Playing Fields is the closest alternative site for outdoor recreation. Glenveagh School is the closest in proximity to the park, with the Drummond Park entrance directly opposite their school gate.
“However, the schools have indicated that they currently cannot use the park to its full potential due to accessibility limitations around the pedestrian entrance and due to the absence of a suitable accessible bit-mac pathway for their pupils who have physical disabilities and who are wheelchair users.
“The playing fields are also widely used by local residents however the lack of a pathway around the playing fields also constrains their access, limiting the full potential of the playing fields as a key local asset.”
It adds: “The school has invested in a pool of adapted inclusive bikes but have nowhere to ride them on the school campus and have limited storage. The school has enquired if the currently disused pavilion within the playing fields could be considered as a storage facility for the adapted bikes, alongside the proposed pathway project, enabling easy access to the park and removing the transportation barrier.
“Recently a make-shift trail has been created by Belfast City Council parks staff. This trail has been formed by cutting the grass shorter in a loop around the perimeter of the park through the trees, with bark laid in areas. The purpose of this trail was to provide walkers and runners a scenic route around the park.
“It also aims to protect the pitches by encouraging recreational use around the perimeter. The feedback on the temporary pathway has been very positive however, the current grass terrain of the trail presents a barrier to people with disabilities from enjoying the park fully and is not suitable surface for inclusive bikes or wheelchairs. These constraints have an adverse impact on a significant number of children with a disability across the school campus.”
The project has not yet been confirmed, and the council has not sourced funding for it. The report states: “Members will be aware of the pressures on the council’s capital financing and there is no council budget secured for the project. Any council capital funding would be required to go through the council’s three stage approval process as agreed by members.
At the recent meeting of the full council, Councillor McAteer told the chamber: “It will affect children and young people from right across Belfast.” She added: “It’s a fantastic green lung in the middle of a residential area, but it is missing crucial paths which enable full accessibility for local schools.”
She said: “Very close to the playing fields we have upwards of 660 children in those special schools, and they have a range of disabilities which include learning difficulties, medical conditions, which are often quite severe. Many have mobility issues.”
She said: “The nearest entrance to these schools is Drummond Park, but it is just a small crooked gate into the park. If you can get through this gate, it is just all mud. Spring, Summer, Winter, this is a very muddy place, simply because there are no paths.
“During Covid, there was an area where the grass was cut, with some bark put down, which enabled local people to walk around to some extent. But it is completely inaccessible to these children who are in wheelchairs, and completely inaccessible to any aspirations they have for getting out and about and getting some fresh air.”