Thousands sign petition urging re-opening of Blackhead Path

Parts of the path have been closed in the past due to health and safety fears.

Thousands of people have supported a call for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to fully re-open one of the area's most important "tourist assets".

An online petition on Blackhead Path, Whitehead has already amassed almost 5,000 signatures - despite only going live two days ago.

Part of the popular walking route in the Co Antrim town has been closed for some time due to the risk posed by rock falls.

Warnings were previously issued following reports that some members of the public had bypassed barriers and warning signs at the path.

The petition was established by local woman Sharon Wheeler, who wrote: "The residents of Whitehead regard the Blackhead Path as an important asset to our area. Unfortunately it has been closed for some time where the path goes around the lighthouse.

"This is an amazing part of the path walking close to the sea, through a cave, [and] up to the lighthouse with amazing views. The path has been closed here for some time and the fencing is falling apart. Urgent action is needed and residents would like the path open.

"With a population of over 3,000 people this path provides access for all - it's flat for the first part so suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. It's free so open to all. Walking is good for mental and physical health. It's all a tourist asset."

A letter attached to the petition adds: "The residents of Whitehead would request a meeting with the council to discuss the future of the path. We would also request regular updates on progress of the path re-opening."

Delays over the path reopening have caused "extreme frustration" for local residents, said East Antrim MLA, John Stewart.

“I was still a councillor in January when we voted to approve major expenditure of around £370,000 for remedial works to allow the reopening of the full path," the UUP representative said.

"At the meeting in question one of my colleagues asked when work would begin, and was told it would be the late summer

“Now, as we approach the end of the year, there does not seem to have been any substantial work done and little, if any, progress on the Blackhead Path. People are understandably asking whether there is any will in the council to get things moving. There is more talk of consultants reports, site surveys, economic appraisals and spiraling costs. But we have had reports and surveys about this issue many times in the past. In fact, there were clear recommendations as set out in the Rockface Survey Report commissioned by Carrickfergus Borough Council and published in February 2015. Recommendations included scaling (clearing), pinning and netting to the highlighted areas, followed by clearing the path and reinstatement of any damaged railings.

“The council made a decision in January; we need action now. The council needs to be clear in what it plans to do in the short, medium and long terms and they must dispel the growing perception that there is resistance coming from Ballymena to spending any more money on the east coast, given the overspend at the Gobbins.”

Responding, a spokesperson for the council said: “We want to reassure the public that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is doing all it can to get the path re-opened as soon as possible.

“It is a real asset to our tourism potential and hugely popular with the local community, but the safety of users of the path is paramount.

“Council is currently engaged with a project team to design and oversee remedial works. Investigations on the scale of this work and the repairs needed are underway and we will have plans to resolve the issue drawn up as soon as possible.

“Work timescales will be determined then, and will also be dependent on weather conditions, so unfortunately it is not possible to put a timescale on the reopening at this stage.

"We will endeavour to ensure the work is completed in as short a timeframe as possible.”

The petition can be accessed here.

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