Residents ‘will work in shifts’ as they protest against tree removal in South Belfast

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Residents ‘will work in shifts’ as they protest against tree removal in South Belfast
Residents ‘will work in shifts’ as they protest against tree removal in South Belfast

South Belfast residents have pledged to “work in shifts” as they protest against the removal of trees for a flood alleviation scheme.

The Department for Infrastructure has removed a number of trees along the River Lagan as part of work on the Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme and has said that more are likely to be chopped down.

Local residents have formed the Save Our Lagan campaign group and have spoken out against the removal of the trees and are calling on the Department to work with them to find solutions to ensure the scheme can go ahead without impacting the trees along the river.

On Monday, a section of the path by Governor’s Bridge in Stranmillis had been closed off by contractors working on the flood alleviation scheme, sparking fears that further trees were going to be removed.

This included one tree that was planted by Belfast’s first female Lord Mayor Grace Bannister in 1979.

Speaking at the protest, Lisa McKee and Colin Shaw from the Save Our Lagan campaign said they planned on making sure there was a presence at the trees throughout the week to protect them.

Save Our Lagan campaigners in Stranmillis on Monday

Lisa said: “When we saw that contractors were coming down to the site this morning we felt that we had to do something to try and protect the trees here.

“We have been asking for a month to have a proper meeting with the minister and chief engineer to outline the concerns that we have with the scheme so that we can go forward with something that is able to protect the environment along the river.

“We are asking for a fully transparent consultation about this work because there seems to have been no thought given to the biodiversity of this area.

“We are planning to stay down here in shifts in order to ensure that none of the trees will be taken down and feel the way this has been handled has been completely unacceptable.”

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Colin said that residents feel there is “no trust” left with the Department when it comes to the flood alleviation scheme and said reforms are needed with regards to environmental protection in Northern Ireland and felt an independent body should be created.

South Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Geraldine McAteer and Councilor John Gormely joined the protestors in Stranmillis and said the Department needed to work with residents and representatives as it moves ahead.

Ms McAteer said: “They need to explore the ways that the flood alleviation scheme can go ahead while also protecting the natural heritage and biodiversity of this area instead of just bulldozing into it.

“These trees provide comfort to the thousands of people who live in the area and walk along these popular paths and they are a benefit to people’s mental health along with the environment.

“I hope that the Department will be more transparent about the scheme and inform residents properly about what will be effected and what will be done to replace anything that is lost.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw and Belfast Lord Mayor councilor Kate Nicholl have also been supporting residents with their concerns about the scheme.

Residents ‘will work in shifts’ as they protest against tree removal in South Belfast

The tree planted by Belfast’s first female Lord Mayor Grace Bannister

Ms Bradshaw said: “I remain fully supportive of residents in their fight to protect these trees and to mitigate the environmental impact of this flood alleviation project.

“The Department for Infrastructure needs to halt current works and engage with residents, who only want what is best for their area. Instead, it is intent on plowing forward with a complete disregard for the environment, biodiversity and local engagement. People across South Belfast want to see our natural heritage protected and expanded.”

Cllr Kate Nicholl said: “We need to explore all options before these trees are removed and I have written to the Department to make this case. Communities have a right to be involved in these decisions, but officials remain uncommunicative with both representatives and residents alike.

“One of these trees has particular personal and historical significance, as it was planted in 1979 by Grace Bannister, the first female Lord Mayor of Belfast. I want to see it commemorated, not torn down. Let’s move Belfast forward by preserving what good we have and by keeping green policies at the heart of our decision making.”

A Department for Infrastructure (DfI) spokesman said: “There are no tree clearance works planned today as part of the Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme. Works ongoing at Stranmillis today involve excavation works to locate utility services to help inform the detailed design for this important scheme.

“A meeting was held last Wednesday between Departmental officials, elected representatives and members of the local campaign group in relation to the need for limited tree clearance works at this location.

“The Department’s careful consideration of alternative routes for the flood wall was explained during the meeting and that regretfully the removal of some trees is likely to be necessary to facilitate the construction of this critical infrastructure to protect over 1,500 homes and businesses from flooding.

“An assurance was again given this would be kept to an absolute minimum and clearance would only take place when all other viable options for the construction of the flood wall had been exhausted.

“The Department had previously engaged an independent arboriculturist to complete a survey of the existing trees during design development of the scheme and has re-engaged the arboriculturist regarding the necessary works proposed at this location to seek their professional input.

“Once informed that one of the trees identified for removal had been planted by the Belfast’s first female Lord Mayor, officials subsequently notified Belfast City Council. This tree has not been removed at this time and the Department is liaising with the independent arboriculturist.

“If it is necessary to remove this tree to facilitate the construction of the flood wall at this location then it is intended that one of the replacement trees to be planted, as part of this project, is sited close to this location and dedicated to the former Lord Mayor.”

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