AN eagerly anticipated new foot and cycle bridge connecting Lagan Towpath to Annadale Embankment at Stranmillis in South Belfast has officially opened.

The 83-metre bridge is one of the key elements of the £5.2 million Lagan Gateway project. The scheme has already seen the existing Stranmillis Weir refurbished and a new navigation lock installed, giving boats better access to other parts of the river.

Belfast City Council is investing £2.15 million in the project through its Belfast Investment Fund, while other partners include Ulster Garden Villages, the Department for Communities, the Department for Infrastructure and Lagan Navigation Trust. 

South Belfast SDLP councillor Gary McKeown said: “The opening of the cycle and foot bridge at Stranmillis marks the first completely new crossing of the Lagan in Belfast in over a quarter of a century, and will open up the area for both residents and visitors.

WELCOME: SDLP councillor Gary McKeown

WELCOME: SDLP councillor Gary McKeown

“The Lagan towpath can be extremely busy, particularly so since the pandemic hit as people have been spending more time outdoors, so by creating new routes in the area, it’ll offer people a range of additional options to walk, cycle and explore. Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon recently announced funding for the Lagan Gateway Greenway from the new bridge up into Belvoir Forest Park – when the whole project is complete, it’ll be transformative for the city.

"The bridge is also being enhanced with a series of nature-themed artworks which will help it complement the local area. Work has already been completed on the first pier, with the others to follow.

“The development of a lock beside the bridge is another exciting aspect of this project, which will help make this stretch of Lagan navigable once more.

“The bridge project has taken longer than expected due to a number of unforeseen issues, and I know this has caused concern for nearby residents. I hope there will continue to be engagement with neighbours and the wider community as the programme moves forward and landscaping and enhancement of the area progresses.”

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon welcomed the opening of the new bridge.

“This bridge is a key element of the Belfast Cycling Network which I published in June this year. It is a fabulous new asset for Belfast and beyond which will open up the beauty of the Lagan for locals and visitors alike, and in due course could become a key element linking communities in south Belfast to the city centre.

"We deliver so much more for our citizens when we work together. I remain committed to collaborating with colleagues in Belfast City Council and wider local government to enhance our natural surroundings and provide more active travel opportunities for people to safely enjoy, walking, wheeling and cycling.”

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey added: “The opening of this new bridge is an exciting day for the city. We have all watched on as we have seen it take shape and from today, it is open for all, connecting the Lagan Towpath to Annadale Embankment at Stranmillis.

“My Department provided substantial investment in this new and significant piece of infrastructure in the city and its surrounding public realm, with funding of nearly £470,000.   The bridge provides an accessible, active-travel route for people to move around our great City, whether it be for work or socially as well as supporting local businesses and contributing to thriving neighbourhoods.

“My Department is responsible for the impounded River Lagan between the Lagan Weir and Stranmillis Weir and is committed to the continuing transformation of this 4.8km stretch of the river. The Lagan Gateway project greatly enhances the works already carried out by my Department and I am very pleased that the new bridge and public realm will allow easier access for the public to enjoy this part of the river.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Kate Nicholl, said: “Walking and cycling are more popular than ever, so the opening of this bridge is very timely. This beautiful part of Belfast is already extremely popular, so it is hoped that the new bridge will help to significantly reduce congestion on the Lagan Towpath by opening up the other side of the river. 

“As well as improving connections between communities in south Belfast, we believe that the bridge and wider improvements to the area will help attract people from further afield and boost the local economy in the longer term. In the near future we also hope to develop pathways to Belvoir Forest Park, making it much more accessible for people on foot or bike who may not otherwise consider visiting it.

“The investment in Lagan Gateway supports many of the ambitions of the Belfast Agenda, the city’s community plan. We want to invest in our communities and make them as attractive as possible. We want to encourage more people to walk and cycle and in turn, improve their physical health and mental wellbeing. By improving connections between the city’s built and natural environments we will contribute to all these aims, so I warmly welcome this project.”

A public vote on a shortlist of names for the new bridge will take place later this year. Details will be announced on Belfast City Council’s website and social media when the voting opens.