Over £30,000 has been awarded to draw up plans for potential new greenways which would link Armagh City and beyond.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has received four grants – each of £8,000- which would allow it to ‘put pen to paper’ and submit proposals.
A total of £160,000 has been awarded as a first step towards extending the greenway network right across Northern Ireland.
Councils will use this money to develop concept design options through a feasibility study for their proposed greenway schemes.
As part of a three phase process, a number of the highest quality feasibility studies will be selected to each receive £25,000 to develop a full business case and detailed design for their proposal.
Locally, the greenways at ‘concept’ stage could see Caledon and Portadown linked via Armagh City, as well as another stretching from Portadown to the north of Moy.
Scarva and Banbridge is also on the radar, as it Craigavon to Aghagallon.
The announcement of funding today (Wednesday), came from Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard.
It follows the successful securing of cross-border funding to construct a greenway between Monaghan and Middletown.
Minister Hazzard has given the green light to 1,000 kilometres of greenways as he published his Strategic Plan to develop a network of greenway paths across Northern Ireland and including cross-border connections.
The paths, for use by walkers, runners and cyclists young and old, will be traffic free and many will utilise disused railways, riverside paths, abandoned canal towpaths or flood embankments, reinventing them for use for generations to come.
Speaking during a visit to a potential greenway on a disused railway track outside Dundrum, Minister Hazzard said: “More and more people are choosing to be active with their travel options and encouraging everyone to lead a more active, healthy life by providing local opportunities is something I and my Executive colleagues are determined to deliver.
“This plan is the pathway to help deliver those opportunities for people across the north, focusing on the development of a 400 kilometres primary and 600 kilometres secondary greenways network that walkers, runners and cyclists can share.
“The greenway paths will connect towns and cities to the villages and countryside from east to west and north to south and will also be integrated with other modes of transport making it easier for people to leave the car behind.
“Many of the proposed schemes are located on disused railways, riverside paths, abandoned canal towpaths or flood embankments. This will breathe new life in to this redundant infrastructure and create public spaces where people can meet, relax, play or enjoy nature, improving the quality of life for local communities and enhancing the experience for visitors.
“One of my key priorities as outlined in the Programme for Government is to help transform how we travel by increasing the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport which will enhance the region as a place where people want to live and work, to visit and invest.”
Minister Hazzard also announced the local councils – including Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon – who have secured funding to support and develop greenway projects in their area under a small grants competition.
He continued: “I am delighted that councils have been part of the development process for this strategic plan and I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years. To demonstrate my commitment, I have more than doubled the initial funding for the grants scheme from £64,000 to £160,000.
“This means that feasibility studies can be worked up on 20 different proposals right across the north to help councils deliver greenways in their areas in line with this Strategic Plan.
“The competition received a high volume of quality greenway proposals and I am currently considering a capital grant scheme to assist councils further in the delivery of their greenway schemes.”
Jonathan Hobbs from the NI Greenways campaign said: “It’s encouraging to see so many councils proposing visionary greenway projects across the country with support from the Department for Infrastructure to realise their vision. This is an exciting first step towards creating a world class greenway network, which will be a welcome investment in rural development and active travel, enhancing our tourism offering and creating long term employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.”
Minister Hazzard concluded: “This plan sets out a framework for a more informed and strategic programme to develop greenway routes across the whole of the north. While the overall target is ambitious and long term, this is a starting point on which to build a lasting legacy for future generations.”