Although churches are being consulted about the new-look Belfast marathon, scheduled to be held on a Sunday for the first time, there is little prospect of any major change to the plans.
That is the view of the chairman of the Belfast City Council committee which has just given a green light to altering the course of the race and moving it from a Bank Holiday Monday to the Sabbath – a move which one fellow councillor branded potentially “problematic”.
The decision was made by Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee on Wednesday, and will come before the full city council on Monday for ratification.
Changing the race to a Sunday was recommended to organisers in a request from the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, who said the first May Bank Holiday should be a significant trading day.
The race is expected to start at 9am, pitting runners and spectators against the tens of thousands of churchgoers in terms of access to the city’s roads.
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons, the chairman of the regeneration committee, said the decision of the committee’s members to approve the new-look marathon had been unanimous.
He said some church leaders have already been consulted, and organisers will “continue to work with them to avoid any negative impact”.
However, he said of the route: “I don’t think it’s going to change radically.
“Really I think we’re down to the fine tuning.”
For example, this could involve deciding whether runners go down city-bound or country-bound lanes.
Former Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston, a Methodist and keen runner who has been a past participant in the event, abstained on the vote. He said the aim of a new route was to help cut out “barren stretches” with few onlookers, and to reduce the height climbed.
“The change of day will be more problematic,” he said.
“Clearly a marathon route has a wide geographic impact and we have called throughout this process for close consultation with churches in particular. That engagement should now increase in order to provide advice and to minimise the disruption which will occur.”
He too is a member of the committee, and abstained on the vote.
Instead of starting from City Hall, the new route will begin at Stormont in east Belfast and move around the city in a more-or-less clockwise fashion, ending at Ormeau Park as usual.
It is the first time there has been a major change to the route for 13 years.
Though the city council must approve the details of the marathon, the actual event itself is run by a company called Belfast City Marathon Ltd.
The councillors had been presented with two routes by the organisers.
One excluded a large part of Finaghy in the south-west and went past the Waterworks in the north twice, and one included more of Finaghy and went around the Waterworks just once.
Councillor Lyons said the councillors chose the latter route because of worries that going along Stockmans Lane in the Balmoral area of the city would impact the nearby motorway, and because going past the Waterworks twice was “superflouous”.
The marathon will be on Sunday, May 5, and entries will be launched in early autumn.
When the marathon began in 1982, there were 3,025 runners taking part.
This year, about 17,000 people took part in the marathon.