The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has handed over ownership of Colin Glen Forest Park to the Colin Glen Trust.
The NIEA, as part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, have delivered a Community Asset Transfer of the forest park and golf course.
The lease confirming the transfer was finalised for 999 years.
Speaking at the event, NIEA chief executive David Small said: “This substantive community asset transfer is ground breaking. It provides a wonderful local exemplar for the kind of innovative solutions that can be delivered by government departments to ensure the benefits derived from public assets are maximised for the enjoyment for all.
“As such it is a vibrant demonstration of what modern government, working in partnership with a local group, can achieve for both community and public good, with commitment to invest in social enterprise growth to increase sustainability in the community sector.
“Colin Glen is a magnificent natural resource and community asset for the area, and it has evolved in recent years under the stewardship of the Colin Glen Trust.”
Following the Colin River, Colin Glen Forest Park and golf course stretches along the Belfast Hills in the southwest of the city. It includes some 200 acres of scenic woodland, grassland, waterfalls and pathways.
Mr Small added: “When a community comes together and takes ownership, it can have a transformative effect on a space. Today, Colin Glen Park is a real focal point for the wider area. It is a place of tranquillity and activity. There is a sense of pride in what has and is being achieved, and optimism for the future.
“When the opportunity became available for the trust to draw down multi-million pound funding to develop the recreation and tourism potential, further helping to secure the long term future for the site, the department was very supportive of the trust’s vision.
“The trust, since their establishment, have a proven track record of enhancing the facilities available to both the local community and visitors from further afield.”
Colin O’Neill, the chief executive of Colin Glen Forest Park, welcoming the lease said: “This is a tremendous endorsement by NIEA of the very positive role of the park and its contribution to West Belfast and the wider community. It’s the start of a new era for all of us.
“The length of lease gives us the security we need to push ahead quickly with the exciting investment plans our board has shaped for the further development of the incredible natural amenities available for local people and visitors to experience and enjoy.
“The park currently offers a unique and comprehensive range of recreation, sports and leisure facilities. These include our golf course, its driving range, pitches for soccer, GAA, rugby and also offers extensive scope for other leisure activities such as running, rambling and walking. Other amenities at the park including our unique Gruffalo Trail and zip wire are hugely popular with children and young people.
“Our exciting future plans represent a huge investment in the regeneration of west Belfast and will enable many more people to enjoy the park and indeed the gateway it provides to the spectacular natural environment of the Belfast Hills.
“We appreciate greatly NIEA’s support for the park over many years and especially for our future vision. We could not have achieved all that we have to date, without NIEA’s assistance and encouragement.”
David Raymond, The Colin Glen Trust chairman, a community-based charitable organisation which advises and oversees activities at the park, added: “It’s been our strategic objective for some considerable time to take long-term responsibility for the future development of the park’s vast natural resources. Our aim is to realise its enormous potential and to ensure its long-term sustainability for the entire community.
“This an immensely important development for the trust and is the result of discussions over many years with government departments and councils about the park’s huge potential.
“The long-term security the agreement provides will enable us to source investment required for the ambitious plans we have developed for the future of what is probably the city’s biggest ‘green lung’ amenity.
“I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have made this hugely significant development possible and especially the NIEA, the team at Colin Glen Trust and the Development Trust NI.
“We have reached an important stage in our exciting journey towards the achievement of a world class recreation and leisure attraction for Belfast and Northern Ireland.”
In conclusion, Mr Small added: “Currently, visitors numbering in their hundreds of thousands are welcomed to Colin Glen each year. As we look to build upon the substantial work which has taken place so far, and to the growth and development of Colin Glen site moving into the future, today is a significant step.
“DAERA’s vision is a living, working, active landscape valued by everyone, and NIEA has a key role in this striving for a clean, healthy environment, benefiting people, nature and the economy. But this can only be accomplished through partnerships. In building links with business, voluntary organisations and the community, there has been a growing sense of shared ownership. There is a willingness to engage and become active stakeholders in the environment.”