A local councillor says he is ‘absolutely disgusted and disappointed’ with colleagues who voted down his motion on building a bridge over the River Bann near Portadown.
Cllr Declan McAlinden’s motion calling for a footbridge from Colmcille to the Bannfoot was defeated by eight votes for and 21 against but the SDLP man told council the vote was down a ‘sectarian line’.
While many councillors from both traditions fondly recalled the old ferryman Geordie Wilson who brought people across the Bann on his ferry for many years, most unionist councillors were opposed to the footbridge.
In the public gallery at Monday night’s council meeting were Charlestown residents opposed to the bridge and campaigners for the bridge.
However following the defeat there was a heated debate outside the chamber between both factions.
Many unionist councillors had been contacted by some residents of the small village of Charlestown which sits on a road leading to the Bannfoot.
DUP Cllr Robert Smyth said residents were ‘utterly opposed’ to the proposition and claimed that any bridge would upset the ‘tranquil and peaceful settlement’.
He also claimed the footbridge would cause difficulties with anti-social behaviour, drugs and litter.
He claimed there was a lack of consultation with local residents in Charlestown who, he said, have to pay for their own streetlighting. Cllr Smyth added that they were aware of the petition, which received more than 4,000 signatures, but claimed many of them were not from the area. He continued that the council already had a ‘hefty’ capital plan and doubted council would pursue it.
Sinn Fein Cllr Catherine Nelson pointed to a Standing Order calling on the matter to be referred to a committee however this was shot down after Mayor Julie Flaherty allowed a debate on the issue to continue.
Ulster Unionist Cllr Ken Twyble said he had been approached by residents of Charlestown who, he said, would have been unlikely to have signed the petition.
Cllr Twyble said that, in its current format, he couldn’t support the Notice of Motion but suggested it be retracted and re-jigged.
Independent Cllr David Jones said he remembered the ferry and had contact with residents in Charlestown.
He pointed out that the area was of environmental interest and a bridge could have a detrimental effect.
“I cannot support the motion in its current form,” he said.
Cllr McAlinden said: “This is what I didn’t want, that it would go down sectarian lines.” He refuted that there would be anti-social behaviour because of the bridge and pointed out that there is already anti-social behaviour in the village citing the theft of a life-jacket recently.
He pointed to the bridge between Tyrone and Maghery over the Blackwater as the precedent having been set.
Cllr Smyth said: “I reject the angle that this is sectarian. I have met with residents and I would distance myself from that completely. I don’t know where that came from.”
He called for a recorded vote on the motion which stated: “The lack of a crossing for pedestrians and cyclists means a round trip of over 16 miles. Given the strong growth of cycling in the area, the completion of such a connection would greatly benefit the area.” The motion asked that the council agree to investigate, in partnership with the statutory agencies, options for consideration and development which would reinstate access in the area, including consultation with the local community and potential users.
They also asked it be referred to the appropriate committee.
After the vote Cllr McAlinden said: “I brought a notice of motion before the Council asking that Council investigate the possibility of providing a 30m footbridge over the river Bann at Bannfoot.
“It would have been a huge boost to the area, environmentally, recreationally and with huge tourism potential.
“The notice of motion asked for the idea to be investigated, the community consulted and funding sought.
“Not only were some members unable to see the merit in the proposal, they weren’t even willing to consider it.
“The suggestion that the proposal would see an increase in antisocial behaviour, burglaries and drugs in the area is nothing more than a smokescreen.
“Thanks to those who supported my proposal, but to the others who couldn’t see their way to providing such a vital piece of infrastructure to the community of Maghery, Bannfoot and the wider area, I cannot express my disappointment in you enough.”