NEWTOWNABBEY Council is set to make a bid to acquire an area of vacant land at Knockenagh Avenue in Rathfern.
Over a number of years, the local authority has considered various options for the development of the site, which is currently owned by the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).
Until recently, the council would have had to purchase the land for around £35,000 if it wanted to develop the site for the benefit of the local community. However, given the excessive costs the NEELB and NIHE incur annually to clean up the site after the traditional July 11 bonfire, it’s thought that both organisations may now be willing to declare the land “surplus to requirements” and transfer it into council ownership.
“Following this, and in line with public sector policy, the land would be advertised by way of a public sector trawl, through which the council could formally express an interest. This process would allow the council to present a proposal which could deliver community benefits for the Rathfern area,” the council’s January development committee meeting was informed.
Members agreed that when the public sector trawl for the land at Knockenagh Avenue is issued, the council should submit an expression of interest.
The committee’s decision was ratified when the full council met on Monday night (January 28).
Speaking after the meeting, local councillor and North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley welcomed the move.
“This land at Knockenagh Avenue has lain derelict for many years. It has been used as a bonfire site and there have been cases of illegal dumping on it. It is a real eyesore and a cause of nuisance for residents living beside the site,” she commented.
The DUP representative, who along with local MP Nigel Dodds has previously held talks with the NEELB about the site, added: “They (the NEELB) will be putting the land into the public sector trawl process through which Newtownabbey Borough Council can express interest in taking control of the land for community benefit.
“There is still some distance to go in this process and we cannot put a timescale on it or say what the outcome will be, but this is a critical step that the NEELB has agreed to dispose of it and that the council is intending to take possession of it.
“We look forward to continuing to pursue this matter and to working with the local community, council colleagues and statutory agencies to bring about an outcome which will make this land an asset for the area, instead of a scourge.”