The Connswater Community Greenway is one of the most significant urban renewal projects in the history of Belfast.
It is described as a 9km “linear park” through east Belfast, that involves 16km of foot and cycle paths, and 26 new or improved bridges. The £40 million project also involves the clean-up of 5km of rivers.
There are three principal routes, that follow the course of the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers down towards Victoria Park, on the verge of Belfast Lough.
You only have to look at the stretch of the new route, where the Connswater flows under the Newtownards Road at Holywood Arches, near the new CS Lewis civic square, to see the change. Formerly the parts of the river were hard even to see from nearby roads and footpaths, and if you did catch a glimpse of the river it looked dirty and was polluted with industrial waste such as disused fridges.
Now the river accompanies a clean and clear paved pathway that links on to the other parts of the route.
At one end of the greenway is the little known wooded gem, Cregagh Glen, which has a path up to a vantage point in the Castlereagh Hills with a fine view over Belfast.
Gradually over the decades, the importance of such pathways and public access has become a priority for Northern Ireland’s capital city.
There is now a cycle/walk route from Lisburn to Jordanstown, and Bangor to Belfast. The Comber Greenway is a separated path from Titanic Quarter to Comber, far into Co Down.
In west Belfast, Black Mountain is now open to the public. Colin Glen has kayaking, and a mountain biking trail and a ropes activity centre.
At the same time that road projects such as the York Street junction are to be upgraded, catering to heavy traffic levels, the city’s off-road routes are also being improved.
This is a environmental and long-lasting use of public money from sources such as the Big Lottery Fund.