Submission to the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan
for the Cavehill Area of Belfast
The document "Shaping Our Future - Regional Strategic Framework for Northern
Ireland", recognises that Northern Ireland is "faced with the key challenge
of providing a high quality of life for all of its citizens". One of its
key guiding principles is "A people and community focused approach - which
recognises that local identity and sense of place are important qualities
communities, and respects their desire to protect
positive features of local environments
It is hoped that the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) will follow this
approach and accordingly this paper is presented by the Cavehill Residents
Action Group (CRAG). It seeks to represent the views of the residents in
the Cavehill area (see map at
Appendix 1) with regard to the protection and enhancement of their
distinctive environment which is currently under threat.
We describe below the nature of our area, and the aspects which we wish to
preserve, protect and maintain. Given the unique "Urban Village" environment
in which we live, preservation and enhancement of the many positive elements
of our area is at the core of our thinking
2) The Nature of our Area
Victorian/Edwardian townscape character
It is vital that any BMAP plan needs to maintain & preserve our
unique built environment. Much of it dates back to the early 20th
century with some examples in the late 19th century. There is
a good mix of well-designed, large detached, semi-detached and terrace housing,
much of it very beautiful and full of character.
22 Old Cavehill Road - built in 1874
Urban Village Character
Ours is a predominantly residential, quiet, quality,
family-oriented, area. With some exceptions (mainly commercial, hot-food
etc) it is a very pleasant and attractive part of Belfast, It can also be
an interesting, and generally safe place in which to live and bring up a
There are no large intrusive shopping malls/supermarkets, and most
of the shops, eg Spar, chemists, newsagents, hairdressers, butchers, florists,
greengrocers, bakery, Post Office, confectionery etc. are small independents
within walking distance and contribute to the feeling of a compact "Urban
Shops on the Cavehill Road
More recently, there has been a blight on the area in a commercial and social
sense due to unwelcome developments such as the introduction of hot-food
bars and the granting of planning permission for bookmakers shops. Fortunately,
in the latter case, the area has been saved at least temporarily by their
failure to get a license. It is not a commercial area, and any commercial
support facilities should reflect this "Urban Village" quality and character.
Shops at the top of the Cavehill Road
North Belfast has seen some of the worst aspects of "the
Troubles". However, in a sometimes bitterly divided city, our CRAG
community has maintained a unique religious mix. As well as both Protestants
and Catholics, there are Jewish and other ethnic minority families living
side by side in an absence of sectarian or racial tensions. We wish to maintain
and develop this mixed peaceful character.
(We also enjoy strong historic artistic links, with some of
Belfasts most famous artists having had close associations with our
area, viz William Conor, John Luke, Colin Middleton etc.)
An important and unique characteristic of our area which we wish
to maintain and develop is the overwhelming "Green" dimension, as reflected
in hundreds of residential gardens, many of them large and well-maintained,
the Cavehill Country Park, the Cavehill Bowling and Tennis Club and the nearby
Chichester Park South
Many of the above "Green" environmental elements also provide our
community with recreational facilities of a beautiful and natural character,
eg The Cavehill Country Park, the Tennis/Bowling Club, the Waterworks, Salisbury
Bowling Club, etc
These need to be preserved, protected, maintained
Of particular historical note is the Cavehill Bowling and Tennis Club which
was built in 1912 only to be burnt down two years later by the suffragettes.
However, it was rebuilt in 1920 and since 1979 has been leased by Belfast
Royal Academy, providing an important social and leisure facility for local
View of the Cavehill from the Old Cavehill Road
Our area has a strong infrastructure of support community buildings
which add character and village quality to our environment, some of them
historic and meriting preservation. Examples are: Rosemary Presbyterian Church,
St Peters Church of Ireland, Cavehill Methodist Church, Church of the
Resurrection, Mormon Church, Chichester Branch Library, Schools, Outreach
Branch of B.I.F.H.E., Salisbury Medical Centre, Belfast Castle and Fortwilliam
Gatelodges. It is vital that any BMAP plan preserves the integrity of this
aspect of our community.
Cavehill Methodist Church and adjoining Catholic Church
Having established above the nature and quality of our area, any future
developments should set out to preserve, protect and maintain its overwhelmingly
positive character. We should also aim to enhance the ambience of our area,
and where possible, remove or improve poor quality facilities such as the
many hot-food bars, etc. Anything which threatens to bring a deterioration
to our area or community should be opposed.
All of us involved in CRAG share the surprise that "our" Planning
Authorities do not seem to be working for our community, but actually
working against it, frequently on the side of traders and developers
who set out to exploit our area and community.
As an observation, we feel that the planning authorities largely ignore
our opinions and have made decisions which have actually been detrimental
to the quality and character of our area. We also feel that they frequently
do not adhere to their own guidelines, or police effectively their own decisions.
They can also be too passive; their role currently appears to be to react
to applications for planning permission rather than to take a proactive role
in developing the area
Any new housing should be of low density, high quality, and sympathetic
in design and character to the area. The character of the area is currently
threatened by redevelopment which is contrary to this principle. In the area
covered by CRAG, several large houses have recently been bought by property
developers who have been prepared to pay a premium for them.
Some have been converted into low quality, densely packed apartments
with architectural features that have little in common with the existing
buildings. Careless planning decisions have also allowed these apartments
to back onto main roads in an unsightly manner. This has been detrimental
to the character of the area by breaking the continuity of some of its beautiful
New development that spoils the grandeur of the Old Cavehill Road streetscape
The residents of the area believe that its remaining character is something
worthy of preservation. The area is mature from a development point of view
and changes of use to high density apartments should be resisted in favour
of single family dwellings. Although buildings in the area may not be listed,
their character is worth retaining and every endeavour should be made to
refurbish existing buildings before redevelopment is considered. Change of
use might be considered but should take into consideration the nature of
the area. For instance the use of large houses for Salisbury Medical Centre
and the vets on the Antrim Road could be considered appropriate but this
would not be the case in purely residential areas.
Salisbury Medical Centre on the Antrim Road and the nearby Veterinary Surgery
More control should be exercised over developers who have purchased properties.
Some sites have been left for long periods of time to become derelict, resulting
in unhygienic rubbish and overgrown hedges etc. One site in particular, 8-10
Old Cavehill Road, has astonishingly been left derelict for over ten years.
As well as being unsightly, it has become a hazard for pedestrians and attracts
young people as a gathering place for drinking and drug taking among other
unsociable behaviour. This sometimes leads to acts of abuse and violence
towards passers by and vandalism to local properties.
Another effect of this type of development is the major loss of green areas
that results as mature gardens are cleared to provide space for housing.
Any planning proposals that involve a loss of trees, wooded areas, gardens
or landscape features should not be allowed. Also, the current ratio of green
area to built area should be maintained. What remains of the architecture,
the mature landscape gardens and the tree-lined avenues is certainly worthy
of preservation. It appears that the current regulations relating to the
preservation of trees are easily flouted. These regulations need to be tightened
up and more severe penalties applied.
House in Palace Gardens
We believe that much of the Cavehill area should be considered to have townscape
character. The high quality architecture and mature landscaping provide a
distinctive environment that needs to be protected. This points to the need
to re-use existing buildings and any refurbishment should maintain their
individual character. Any extensions or new buildings should have architectural
characteristics that make them appear to be integral with or complementary
to the existing buildings.
Appendix 2 shows areas
that CRAG believe should be considered to have townscape character.
New Commercial Developments
As mentioned above, we believe the area has the character of an Urban Village.
By its nature, this implies mixed land use. However, in our view, this has
been badly misinterpreted by planners and it seems that any commercial enterprise
will be looked upon favourably if it wishes to set up in premises currently
used for community retail outlets and amenities. Recently this has included
planning permission being granted for hot food bars and bookmakers.
The local residents are very much against innovations such as this as they
attract people from outside the immediate area and have a negative effect
on the social infrastructure of the area. Other examples that we would wish
to resist are amusement arcades, gaming shops and any manufacturing businesses.
A most important factor in the granting of planning permission should be
that any new use is appropriate to the needs of the area and its community,
and should reflect close consultation with the local community.
A hot food bar amongst shops on the Cavehill Road (also a busy road crossing
We enjoy reasonable access to the major road infrastructure and city centre.
We would support reasonable plans, following consultation, to reduce traffic
flow through and within our area. In a macro sense, we would not wish any
future Traffic/Roads policy to impinge upon the Urban Village nature of our
area. Parking is becoming a major problem and we would welcome improvements
to the provision of parking space. New developments should be provided with
appropriate off-street parking.
Crossing the Cavehill Road at the shops opposite Henderson Avenue has become
dangerous and difficult. This is especially true for elderly pensioners and
parents with young children. A pedestrian crossing is very necessary to improve
safety and convenience for those crossing this very busy road.