It was agreed that the above item be considered at this stage in the Meeting.
The Head of Environment presented the above report, a copy of which had previously been circulated. He pointed out that the purpose of the report was to advise Members on the status of the damaged footbridge at Muff Glen, Eglinton and to advise of potential next steps with regard to this matter.
Member agreed to receive Ms. Pamela from the North West Red Squirrel Group to address the Committee.
Ms pointed out that there were four thousand residents in Eglinton Village and Muff Glen was a wonderful resource for the Village and was used by many local community groups. She said it provided a wonderful walkway and local residents had been angered at the length of time it had taken to have the necessary repair works carried out to the footbridge following the 2017 floods. Residents had been advised that there were insufficient funds to replace the bridge. She made reference to a circular road which had existed which had been very popular and had been used by many to search for red squirrels. She referred to a narrow pathway which was causing a major health and safety issue.
Ms advised that earlier in the year the Red Squirrel Safari was launched in respect of which funding had been granted from Patagonia??? which had received approval from the department of Forestry and was proving a major tourist attraction. She stated that it would be much safer for all if the Footbridge was replaced. She referred to discrepancies regarding estimates in respect of the replacement of the bridge. She stated that this was a well used facility which she anticipated could be returned to its former self.
Councillor Durkan suggested that the recommendation contained in the report be more robust and the Department be reminded of their statutory duty in this regard and in respect of which they were currently in breach. She referred to the Department’s duty to promote the recreational use of any facilities. She referred to the potential safety hazard which was preventing people from using the facility. She referred to the fact that Muff Glen was a hidden gem and Council should do all in its power to seek to maximise its recreational use.
Councillor Hunter also emphasised the amazing features of this facility and referred to the need for safe and easy access. She queried what alternatives, if any, were available should the Department state that they were unable to carry out the projected works.
Councillor Jackson expressed concern at the parameters of the estimates provided and enquired if Officers had any more specific information in terms of the cost and engineering constraints of the proposed repair works.
The Head of Environment advised Members that Muff Glen was not a Council asset and as such Council had not carried out a technical assessment of the works required.
He stated that in order to do so it would be necessary to provide further technical assessments and Council was not in a position to provide the necessary resources to carry out these works. He continued that any repair works would have to be funded from Council’s budget which was not available and costed as part of the rates estimates process. It would also be necessary for Council to enter into a licence agreement with the Forest Service. He pointed out that Council had a number of other assets which were severely damaged in the 2017 floods and when these assessments had been completed it would be possible to update costs as there would be engineer’s assessments of the works and it would be possible to review and provide an estimate in respect thereof. He reiterated, however, that as this was not a Council asset it was not possible to carry out detailed assessment works.
Councillor Jackson said he was suggesting that Council undertake the works but querying the parameters within which the estimates provided were based.
In response to a query from Councillor Ferguson, the Head of Environment explained that any response from the Forestry Service would be presented to Committee together with possible options and potential costs. He referred to the existing bridge which was unacceptable and if Council was provided access it would have to be accessible to all.
Subsequently the Committee
Recommended that a formal request be sent to the Permanent Secretary of DAERA requesting, that as owners of the forest, they take urgent action to replace the Footbridge at Muff Glen and reminding them of the statutory duty in this regard.