04 December 2005

Sell-off plan step too far

Sunday Life

By Sinead McCavana
04 December 2005

COUNCIL bosses are refusing to restore historic steps at Belfast Zoo because they plan to sell off the site for development, it was claimed yesterday.

Sunday Life launched a campaign last month to save the majestic Bellevue steps that have fallen into disrepair.

But a local conservation group that is backing our campaign has discovered that city councillors are considering re-zoning the zoo for development.

The disused area - which runs along the Antrim Road - was abandoned when a new complex was built further up Cave Hill.

Its location in north Belfast's leafy suburbs would make it a much sought-after development site.

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that plans to sell off the old zoo are under consideration.

She said: "One of the council's proposals, as a response to the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan, is to re-zone this excess land for development.

"But it is only a proposal and it is likely to be some time before a decision is made."

Cavehill Conservation Campaign chairman John Gray branded the proposed move "a public scandal".

Said Mr Gray: "If all Belfast council was suffering from was its habitual inertia with regard to the management and safeguarding of the Cave Hill, that would be bad enough.

"But the discovery that the 'do-nothing' agenda for the old zoo area is merely a disguise for the active contemplation of property speculation is nothing less than a public scandal."

Sunday Life approached the council in November and asked if the dilapidated steps could be restored to their former glory.

Maurice Parkinson, head of parks and cemeteries, said at the time: "It would require a significant capital investment to carry out the work necessary on them and, unfortunately, this is not among our priorities at present."

Mr Gray's group would like to see the area transformed into a scenic walking route from Belfast Castle to the main zoo entrance.

He added: "There does not appear to be any concept of a civic duty to retain public access and amenity value in this area.

"Selling off the land off will no doubt help to keep rates down in the short term.

"But, in the long term, it will reduce further the area of public park land in Belfast.

"Unfortunately, the long-term is not something which most councillors seem to concern themselves with."

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