Northern Ireland

Fury at Cave Hill mountain bike ban plan

Mountain bikers on Cave Hill
Image caption Cyclists who use Cave Hill say they are being unfairly "demonised"

A report commissioned by Belfast City Council has recommended a total ban on mountain biking in Cave Hill Country Park.

The proposal came before the council's People and Communities Committee on Tuesday but a decision could not be reached.

It has provoked an angry reaction from mountain bikers.

They insist that they have done everything possible to reach agreement with other park users.

The cyclists have said they are being unfairly "demonised".

Currently, cyclists are permitted to use the north Belfast beauty spot within the constraints of a local by-law, which says they must not ride in an unsafe way, damage the park or alarm other users.

Image caption The trails on Cave Hill are used by both cyclists and walkers

The report, however, said that, despite 15 years of trying, it has proved impossible to find a solution that suits all park users.

It described it as a "serious public safety issue" and said: "It is now clear that the council must take measures to prevent mountain biking at Cave Hill Country Park."

The council committee said it needed more information before making its decision.

'Enforcement blitz'

The report quotes a police officer as saying cyclists can reach up to 30mph (50km/h) on the downhill tracks, and urged a "high-profile enforcement blitz" in conjunction with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Bern McClure is a regular at Cave Hill, along with more than 500 other mountain bikers.

"We are absolutely aghast," he said.

"It was the mountain bikers who originally approached the council asking for help to counteract incidents of sabotage which had been going on and now the whole thing has been turned on its head."

This referred to incidents at the park where, he alleged, fishing line was strung between trees, holes were dug in the tracks and even trees were cut down and placed across the paths.

Hidden cameras

Mr McClure said at least one person had been given a police caution as a result of mountain bikers gathering their own evidence using hidden cameras.

"Now these people are going to be allowed to use the park with impunity while we are punished," he said.

He added that the mountain bikers now wanted to be given an opportunity to address Tuesday's committee meeting.

"Mountain biking has been part of life in Cave Hill Country Park for years, and we have worked hard to make sure it can co-exist with all other park users," he said.

Mr McClure disputed the claim that cyclists reached speeds of up to 30mph, and criticised a reference in the report to a fatal accident in Colin Glen involving a "scrambler" motorbike and a pedestrian.

"That is simply not comparing like with like," he said.

"It seems to be part of an attempt to demonise mountain bikers."

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