Portaferry Renewal: Ropewalk Scheme
Updated 23 July 2021
**Our Next Steps**
A report on the work updertaken by Aecom and providing options for next steps will be considered by Elected Member at a meeting on Wednesday 28 July. The report and zoom link to join the meeting can be accessed here: Council and Committee Meetings.
Updated 1 July 2021
Council has asked infrastructure consulting firm Aecom to review both layouts (the Council’s and the alternative proposal) and give their expert advice on proposed solutions. As part of this we are undertaking a further tree survey to the required Bs5837 2012 specification, including an arboriculture impact assessment and tree constraints plan.
This new review will be based on the assumption that we may not be able to accommodate as many additional parking spaces as previously hoped.
However, it must be noted that the grant funding is based on an additional 54 spaces. Any significant reduction (more than 10%) would require approval from DAERA, with no guarantees that any new proposal would successfully receive the level of funding required.
To comply with the funding timelines construction work must start late August/early September, with a 20-week construction programme. The contractor has confirmed they can pause the start date until then, and have confirmed their costs for doing so, which can be accommodated within the current budget. Although it should be noted that a delay may increase the overall construction costs, particularly due to the current inflation challenges. In the current Letter of Offer for the grant funding the work is to be completed by end of November 2021, however Council may be able to ask for an extension to the end of January 2022.
Benefits of the Scheme
The proposed Ropewalk Scheme will provide community and economic benefit for Portaferry. It represents significant investment in the regeneration of Portaferry with the total project cost of approximately £467,000 including including Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme Village Renewal funding of £350,000.
This scheme will benefit local residents and visitors to the village. It is set to improve on and restore the Ropewalk area of Portaferry, providing much needed car parking infrastructure for the village. The scheme will also improve the function and safety of the area and accommodate tourism, as agreed within the Village Renewal Plan with its vision to regenerate Portaferry.
Portaferry is highlighted as a key tourism gateway in the Borough, with Exploris Aquarium as a key visitor attractor. The business case submitted as part of the process indicated that the additional car parking spaces would greatly add to the facilities in the village, as well as to Exploris.
The scheme seeks to minimise health and safety and access issues by providing a safe walking route through the car park for all pedestrians. In particular this will benefit those using pushchairs and wheelchairs, as well as groups arriving to the village by coach.
Ropewalk Scheme Details
The proposal includes the following enhancements:
- Additional car parking space and reconfiguration of the existing car park: the new car park will be 141 spaces (58 additional spaces), including 5x disabled, plus 3x coach parking spaces and a turning circle. This will overcome current issues with car parking, particularly coach parking and the Health and Safety issues with coaches.
- Installation of a footpath: this will provide a safe walking route through the car park for all pedestrians, in particular those using pushchairs and wheelchairs.
- Refurbishment of the disused amenity block to provide three toilets – 2 x unisex and 1x disabled. This will see the removal of the one existing portaloo.
- New lighting scheme: the pathway into the town from the top of the car park will be formalised and includes the installation of bollard lighting.
- Installation of CCTV to discourage antisocial behaviour.
- New NIE connection/supply to future proof the site.
- Installation of an art piece (turbine) celebrating the area's marine links
The scheme was presented and discussed at a Portaferry Steering Group meeting in September 2019 and at a Portaferry Village Plan Forum meeting in October 2019. It was then presented to the Regeneration and Development Committee on 5th September 2019; to Council on 23rd October 2019, 24th June 2020, 26th August 2020 and 24th February 2021; and to the Strategic COVID Recovery Group on 17th November 2020.
Layout, Trees and Wildlife
Ards and North Down Borough Council, working with its professional team of architects and quantity surveyors, has spent significant time reviewing the layout of the scheme to ensure we remove as few trees as possible. However, the Portaferry Ropewalk Improvement Scheme cannot go ahead without the removal of a number of trees. To mitigate this, Council will replant more trees than are removed: these will be semi-mature trees. The Council is currently working to determine the best species to plant at the location.
The 14 trees being removed are all within the vicinity of the current car park. None are within the actual wood, and approximately 50 trees within the car park area are being retained.
In line with section 127 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, trees within a designated Conservation Area are protected. Therefore, Council made three applications to the planning department to carry out works to a total of 14 trees within this location. They were dealt with under ‘Works to Trees Application’. The Planning Department advised that they had no objection to any of the proposed works and decision letters were issued in each of the applications.
An independent ecological survey in respect of our duties under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 – namely protection of bats and birds - was carried on 26th May 2021, and was followed by another review on 16th June 2021. The surveys confirmed that there are no bats but there is one bird nest in one tree. This tree will not be touched until the birds have left the nest, to protect the nest and any chicks that may hatch. Further surveys will be undertaken prior to any construction work, in line with due process.
The professional ecologist has also carried out an initial assessment and confirmed there is no evidence of red squirrels, pine martens or badgers residing in or around these trees. He further noted that the habitats are generally of low conservation value as the area around the trees consists primarily of amenity grassland that is subject to regular mowing. None of the land affected is recorded as priority habitat by NIEA. The Council has spoken to NIEA's Wildlife Officer who is content with the actions taken to date.
This Council is committed to a sustainable future and is conscious of its challenges to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As outlined in the Council’s Corporate Plan 2020-2024, the most pressing issue has risen to prominence for our Borough in recent years is sustainability.
Three key sustainability-related pillars have been identified as challenges for the Borough:
- Environmental sustainability: Increased awareness and focus, globally and locally, on issues including climate change, carbon footprint and the impact of waste.
- Economic challenges: The Borough’s economy has seen low growth in recent years, creating financial pressure on local businesses. This also results in low growth in the available pool of business ratepayers – putting greater pressure on existing businesses and householders to share the rates burden. The result is a stagnant income from rates, which puts pressures on the sustainability of Council services, resources and investment in the Borough;
- Social changes: This includes increased demands on services and local challenges such as demographic changes as our population ages and also local pockets of deprivation;
Sustainability is not solely about environmental issues, but must also include economic and social considerations. A viable economy depends on a healthy society, both of which rely on a sustainable environment. Sustainability occurs when all three work in balance with each other. The Council’s improvement plans for Portaferry were made holistically and in an attempt to find that balance.
A key focus of our corporate commitment to the environment is to improve the biodiversity of our green spaces, including the promotion of tree planting. The Council has developed a Tree and Woodland Strategy 2021-2032, with ambitious plans to undertake significant woodland tree planting across the Borough.
The vision is to increase accessible woodland from its current 7% to the NI average of 10.3% by 2025 and to the UK average of 12.1% by 2032. This will see Council planting 160,000 native trees, 1 for each resident of the Borough, as well as developing a series of community orchards.
Council received an alternative proposal from a Portaferry-based architect on Monday 21 June 2021. This proposal outlines a total of 129 spaces (including 5 disabled) and 3 coach parking, with only the loss of 3 trees (an addition of 46 spaces). An initial review by AECOM has indicated that there is some merit to parts of the proposal, for example the proposed footpath network could be a good solution, as well as the use of reinforced grass in certain areas. However, there are also some issues, most of these linked to the proposed layout and location of the bus turning circle, including, for example:
Car parking spaces in the middle of a bus turning circle is not advised due to health and safety issues (DfI advised against this as well)
The dimensions quoted for the bus turning circle (for a 12m bus) are out of date, Translink have buses up to 14.3m in length and have confirmed to ensure the site is future proofed the turning circle should be able to accommodate 14m buses.
The introduction of car parking spaces in the central island will likely have more detrimental impact on the trees – we are currently undertaking a Tree Survey to better understand this.
The bus turning circle and new car parking is located over the culvert, however the load capacity of the culvert isn’t known. The Council design was based on not having structures over the culvert due to the risk of damage to itt and the location of the trees on top of it. Further advice is being sought from DfI Rivers.
Council has received an updated proposal (29/6/21). A full review of this is currently being undertaken, however a number of the issues outlined above do not appear to have been resolved.