Mrs Long said, “The current approved plans for the site show a set of steps which the developer had previously indicated were intended to replace the old right of way. However, his request to EHS was not for a diversion of the right of way but instead to extinguish it entirely. Planning Service representatives made it clear today that they do not view the steps as vital to the new development and they would not be able to force him to construct them even though they appear on the approved plans. Therefore, the only way in which residents can have certainty that the right of way will be maintained is if EHS, based upon the report of the Inspector who conducted the inquiry, refuse the extinguishment order. The issue of any possible diversion is not a matter for this Inquiry.
“The right of way has been completely removed already despite the fact that no permanent extinguishment order has yet been granted. Only a temporary closure was granted by the Castlereagh Council for health and safety reasons during construction and on the understanding that the intention was to seek to divert but not remove the right of way.
“Today during questioning, the developer said that, given the work already undertaken on the site, it would not be possible, without demolition, to reinstate the original path; however, that cannot be allowed to influence the outcome of the Inquiry. Despite an informative on the original approval that the long-term issue of the right of way would have to be resolved to implement the approval, the path was removed without first gaining the required permanent extinguishment or diversion order. The consequences of any work having to be undone, including the potential cost, should have been fully considered before embarking on the complete removal of the path.
“Local residents and elected representatives today made a very strong case at the Inquiry that the path has been extremely well used and popular and is valued by residents as an important resource and amenity. There were a large number of residents present today and many others have written objections to the removal of this important local access to bus routes, the local library, the integrated health care team, two local schools, the park and bowling green and the local shops.
“I see no reason why young mums with children in prams carrying armfuls of shopping or older people with restricted mobility wishing to catch a bus should be forced to considerably extend the length of their journey simply so a developer can make extra profit from a site. There was not a single person other than the developer either present today, or who had written to the inquiry, who supported its removal and not a single coherent, defensible reason for its removal was presented which would benefit anyone but the developer.
“I hope that EHS will recognise the path for what it is – a valuable and important local amenity – and refuse this extinguishment order.”