Solutions Agreed to Tackle Helen's Bay and Crawfordsburn Visitor Influx

Thursday 30th September 2021

Cross-party group and statutory agencies agree measures with DAERA Minister to help tackle visitor influx challenges at Helen’s Bay and Crawfordsburn

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Following a difficult summer in Helen’s Bay and Crawfordsburn due to high volumes of visitors, Ards and North Down Borough Council wrote to both the DAERA and DfI Ministers requesting meetings to try to find solutions that would work for both visitors and residents. 

The DAERA Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, met with elected representative from Ards and North Down and officials from statutory agencies on 27 September to discuss measures to help address the anti-social behaviour and parking issues that have become regular features at weekends in the beauty spots. 

The villages of Helen’s Bay and Crawfordsburn attract large numbers of visitors, particularly in the summer months.  While Council welcomes and wants to attract visitors to the Borough, anti-social behaviour and inconsiderate parking has caused a great deal of stress to residents over the past number of years – and increased significantly as a result of pandemic travel restrictions.  The large numbers of visitors, estimated in a report produced by the PSNI in July to be 17,000 over a weekend of good weather, has led to roads being closed and residents facing difficulties leaving their own houses. 

The Council, the PSNI and Translink already work closely to coordinate actions and communicate with residents.  Practical steps have been put in place to tackle the problems, such as installing CCTV and signage – however residents continue to report occasions when they are unable to leave/ access their properties due to cars being parked across their driveways.  While it is recognised that 2021 was a ‘record breaking’ year for Crawfordsburn Country Park, with visitor numbers at over 800k, the various problems cited have been ongoing for several years.   

In attendance at the meeting were the following Council representatives – Alderman Marion Smith and Cllrs Gillian Greer, Lauren Kendall, Carl McClean and Martin McRandal.  Minister Poots also invited all MLAs for North Down; Alan Chambers, Stephen Dunne, Alex Easton and Rachel Woods were able to attend.  Officials from DfI Roads and representatives from Translink and the management Team at Crawfordsburn Country Park also joined the meeting, along with PSNI Superintendent Brian Kee. 

The key issues under discussion were:

- Better managing the large volumes of traffic entering the villages
- Tackling inconsiderate parking, which is blocking access to properties, and illegal parking, which is making footpaths inaccessible and blocking sight lines at junctions
- Addressing antisocial behaviour, which is causing environmental hazards including severe littering (soiled nappies, BBQ and broken bottles) and the lighting of bonfires 
- Reducing instances of breaches of alcohol bye-laws
- Providing toilet facilities beyond the current closing time of the Country Park. 

As a result of the meeting, the following actions have been agreed:

- The Council will write formally to the DAERA Minister outlining the inadequacies with the current bye-laws (consumption of alcohol) and how these might be strengthened.  The correspondence will ask for the Department to consider if legislative changes are needed.  If this is the case, approval must be sought from the NI Assembly.   
- DAERA will consider fully gating the Helen’s Bay (Fort Road) car park to prevent late night access. 
- The PSNI will continue to patrol and support the community in response to instances of anti-social behaviour.
- Crawfordsburn Country Park will return to normal opening hours for its toilets next season (early closures were required in 2021 because of COVID related staff shortages).
- DfI Roads Parking Enforcement Unit is currently completing a review of enforcement in the North Down area.  This will help to determine if further resource can be allocated to Helen’s Bay and Crawfordsburn during the busy summer season. 
- DfI will discuss with the Council / the community permissions for additional planters to prevent parking on the verges of access roads.
- The Council will write again to DFI Minister Mallon requesting her attendance at a meeting with Members to discuss issues relevant to her Department.
- All partners committed to holding multi agency meetings on a more regular basis.