Proposals to erect a bridge across the River Bann at the Bannfoot have been welcomed by the SDLP.
For decades families and friends have been forced to make a 15 mile trek to see each other since the old wooden ferry at the the Bannfoot was stopped.
Local councillor Declan McAlinden said he welcomed news that NI Greenways are looking at plans to erect a bridge at the Bannfoot.
Spearheaded by NI Greenways, the project, ‘Bridging the divide’, is a series of articles proposing three investments which can boost active travel by linking communities divided only by the cost of a bridge. The group states: “As the River Bann flows into Lough Neagh, a former crossing point has fallen into memory – now a traffic-free bridge could link more than just two small settlements, it could complete a missing link in tourist trail surrounding Lough Neagh.
Cllr McAlinden said: ““This would be great news for local cyclists and walkers alike. Living quite close to this, I visit the picnic area on a 2/3 times a week and remember on many an occasion crossing this stretch of water on the ‘Bannfoot Ferry’ with my late dad to visit relatives in Maghery. It was a wooden raft and was operated by Mr Wilson, now deceased.
“A footbridge for walkers and cyclists would be great and would open up the whole concept of Lap the Lough. It’s the only place around Lough Neagh that you can’t cross and for people wanting to cycle or drive around the Lough they have to make a 15 mile round trip to get to Maghery rather than a three mile journey from that point .
“I appreciate some residents would have concerns but I stress that I would only be supportive if it was a bridge to suit cyclists and walkers.
“There are opportunities to promote tourism and even help support local businesses as well as the whole social aspect of health and wellbeing.
“The picnic area which I lobbied for would be an ideal area for people to stop before crossing the bridge and if the bridge were to be erected residents from both sides could make contact on a more regular basis.”
Stephen McNally, one of the organisers of the popular Lap the Lough event, thinks the bridge would be transformative for the area.
“It would be a much safer, quicker, quieter and picturesque crossing than navigating through Portadown town centre.
“There are over 20 cycle clubs within 20 miles of the Bannfoot area and probably a further 50 clubs within regular striking distance but none venture this way because crossing isn’t an option… cyclists like a loop. Potentially that’s 5,000+ regular cyclists of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, including youth & families who could be crossing at the Bannfoot producing no emissions, no noise and no impact to the roads or the local community.
“I understand there may be concerns from local residents but they can look toward the bridge at Maghery, operating now for 10 years. It’s been transformative for the area with walkers, cyclists and anglers crossing daily and no negative impact whatsoever.
“A footbridge at Bannfoot would make the Loughshore Trail a much better proposition for tourists too – like many local cyclists they’ve had to deal with the incredulity of cycling to the Bannfoot expecting a bridge – there’s permanent proof with one sorry fellow on Google Maps shown turning back in dismay.