Connswater Community Greenway is a visionary urban regeneration project that is transforming East Belfast by combining improved flood protection with the creation of public spaces and pedestrian/ cycle routes that connect communities.
The project represents a £40m investment, delivered by Belfast City Council in close collaboration with local regeneration organisation, EastSide Partnership. Another key participant is Northern Ireland’s Rivers Agency, which is delivering flood alleviation measures for homes and businesses within the catchments of three rivers – the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers – via a project that offers wider community benefits.
Connswater Community Greenway’s physical measures have delivered a significant upgrade to the quality, safety and vibrancy of East Belfast. In addition, these interventions support community cohesion and interactivity, economic development, improvements in public health, cleaner rivers and greater flood resilience. What could have been delivered as a standalone flood alleviation scheme and a separate urban regeneration programme have been combined to become an award-winning project with lasting and positive benefits.
One of the most visible features of Connswater Community Greenway is a new 9km linear park linking existing green and open spaces and allowing residents to travel across the city easily via car-free corridors. Another high-profile element is a new civic square, named after former East Belfast resident and famous author, CS Lewis.
Arup has played a central role in delivering Connswater Community Greenway by leading the project team during the phase 2 design and construction stages. As well as utilising our civil engineering expertise, we have deployed an extensive range of other technical skills, including geomorphology, community liaison and NEC project management and supervision.
This is a project that demonstrates the power of green infrastructure to contribute to a city’s wider community and economic development goals. It is funded by the UK Big Lottery Fund, Belfast City Council and Northern Ireland’s Departments for Communities and Infrastructure. For more details about Connswater Community Greenway please see the project’s public website.
Three rivers flow through the area: the Connswater, Knock and Loop. All three channels have been artificially influenced in the past and a key project goal has been to restore the rivers back to more natural forms in order to increase biodiversity, allow greater public access and improve their general appearance. Much of the Connswater river was confined to a blockstone channel, while other river sections were oversized and sluggish. As part of the project works, the river system has been given a “kick start” to encourage a healthy dynamic and to create more diverse habitats through fluvial and tidal sections. This should result in a wider range of flora and fauna. Meanwhile, river banks have been softened by removing debris and refuse and by replacing stone revetments with more natural forms and with native aquatic planting. These measures are expected to support future improvements in the rivers’ ecological status, as required by the EU Water Framework Directive.
East Belfast is home to 40,000 residents and was identified by Northern Ireland's Rivers Agency as requiring greater protection against fluvial and tidal events. With this in mind, Connswater Community Greenway was designed to play a central role in the delivery of the East Belfast Flood Alleviation Scheme, and to incorporate 4.1km of new reinforced concrete floodwalls and 1.2km of flood embankments. Combining flood alleviation with wider regeneration measures has delivered cost savings while minimising disruption for local communities and the environment.
Bridges connecting communities
One of the most visible elements of the Connswater Community Greenway is a series of new pedestrian and cycle bridges engineered by Arup’s team. Seven new steel bridges and two small-span wooden bridges now act as connections between communities, linking a network of green spaces. Where once the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers acted as barriers to public movement, they are now facilitating sustainable travel and healthier lifestyles, and are reconnecting people and places. The bridges are being named by local residents using a public nomination process.