SOUTH Belfast Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has condemned the destruction of natural habitats along the Lagan near Stranmillis Weir and called for a funded implementation plan to assist restoration.

Last week, as part of flood alleviation work, the Department for Infrastructure removed hedgerows and trees that were previously home to a variety of wildlife. 

Speaking to the South Belfast News, Ms Bradshaw said: “Local residents are outraged that officials allowed this irreversible destruction of trees, hedgerows and wildlife without any advanced notice being given to the local community.

“Whilst the habitats cannot be easily replaced, I have contacted the Department for Infrastructure to prevent further damage and to call for a funded implementation plan to help restore some biodiversity."

Ms Bradshaw said that answers must be provided to constituents around the reasoning behind the decision and that the action seems completely counter-productive, particularly in regards to the Department’s environmental responsibilities. 

“This area is a valuable green space at the heart of our constituency and the loss will not just be hard felt by residents but by all those who enjoy walking and cycling through this natural beauty.”

Her Alliance colleague Cllr Emmet McDonough-Brown added: “The decision to remove so many trees and hedgerows should never have gone ahead without the consent of the community.

“Whilst we all want to see the flood alleviation works progress and protect homes, more consideration should have been given to the environmental impact this would have.

"It feels like a callous disregard for the need to protect our natural resources, consider the impact of decisions on the climate and encourage environmental growth in our cities.”

A DFI spokesperson said: “Site clearance and investigation works in relation to the Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme are ongoing. Notices and social media have been used to raise awareness of the ongoing works and there has been engagement with residents and local elected representatives at various stages of the scheme.

"This includes several public open days and direct engagement with affected landowners and stakeholders. 

“Environmental screening has been undertaken for the project and only the trees and shrubs necessary to gain access to execute the works are to be removed. The majority of the site clearance works need to be taken forward now, to mitigate the potential impact and avoid the bird nesting season, in preparation for the start of construction in spring 2022."

The DFI spokesperson said that throughout the development of the scheme design efforts have been taken to minimise the impact from the proposed works on the local environment and wildlife as much as possible and consultation with relevant authorities has been undertaken.

"However, the removal of some trees and shrubs is unavoidable to facilitate the construction of this important project which will reduce tidal flood risk to over 1,500 homes and businesses within Belfast. Areas where trees and shrubs have to be removed to facilitate the works are to be reinstated with similar species where possible. 

“The £17m Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme involves construction of critical infrastructure to protect the city with over five miles of flood defences along the River Lagan from Belfast Harbour to Stranmillis Weir.

"The scheme has been designed to integrate with the surrounding landscapes and streetscapes whilst taking into account the latest projections on climate change in order to provide a long term approach to tidal flood risk management for Belfast that allows for future adaption to mitigate against potential sea level rises. This is climate action for Belfast and we will continue to work carefully throughout the process.”