Emmet McDonough-Brown (Alliance Party, South Belfast)
In Belfast we are hugely fortunate to enjoy high quality, award-winning parks and outdoor spaces. In the south of the city, we think of places like Botanic Gardens, Ormeau Park, and Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park as beautiful places to spend time enjoying the outdoors.
Next month, I will be asking Belfast City Council to consider options for lighting our city parks with the intention of opening them for longer during the darker winter months. At this time of year, people who might want to use our parks and outdoor spaces find closed signs almost everywhere they go from 4:30pm which is just too early for many people’s daily rhythms. This is the sort of practical improvement which should make life a little easier, regardless of your politics.
Runners, cyclists, dog-walkers, indeed many people stand to benefit from longer opening hours in our city parks. Yes, there are practical challenges (including around personal safety) and budgets are always tight, but I believe the time is right to explore whether we should invest in extra opening hours for these much loved, busy civic spaces.
Two parks are already open 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Orangefield and Victoria Park, in the east of the city. My proposal asks the Council to look at what the costs and benefits might be of extending this approach to other parks across Belfast. I believe that everyone, regardless of where they live, should have access to a well-lit park and any change would need to have citywide reach if it were to command political support. I would suggest that the busiest parks might be first for consideration.
Technology already exists which could reduce the cost to the city’s ratepayers of such a move – both in terms of capital expenditure and ongoing revenue support. LED lights, renewable energy sources, and the emerging smart city agenda could all be harnessed to deliver a service which would create safe, illuminated routes and spaces in our parks while keeping costs low and minimising environmental impacts. Without prejudging the view of experts in the Council, I think this provides a sound basis for further research and we should always be willing to test new ideas to improve services for our citizens.
I hope that other parties will join with me and support this idea. I recognise it is one which is gaining currency and this gives me reason to believe that progress can be made on a cross-party basis. Imagine in years to come the existence of well-lit routes through our major parks in North, South, East and West Belfast, connecting communities, enabling active lifestyles, and making dark nights that little bit less depressing. I believe that, with cross-party support and ambitious thinking, we can make progress on this important issue.
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.