RECOMMENDATIONS to establish ‘inclusive beach’ facilities in Newcastle will go before councillors this week. On Thursday, the council’s Active and Healthy Communities (AHC) Committee will be asked to approve the establishment of new infrastructure on the town’s Downs Road, which has been assessed to be the ‘preferred location’ for this.
A committee report states that local authority officers have engaged in consultation with the Mae Murray Foundation – a charity promoting inclusivity for all in activities – and that a number of infrastructural changes, incorporating the public toilets, are now being proposed. These include the priority establishment of Changing Places toilet facilities – these generally include an adult-sized changing bench and hoist, and adequate space for two carers as well as the facility user – and the establishment of storage space of up to 20 square metres.
The recommendations also include the establishment of ‘bespoke inclusive beach car parking arrangements in the Downs Road car park next to the proposed public and Changing Places toilet facilities’, and the establishment of staffing resources to carry out inclusive beach access related work. The report states that this work ‘could be combined with any planned public toilet resource provision’ ‘Currently, there is good beach access near this site, with the above also complementing the newly established inclusive play park at Downs Road,’ it adds. These recommendations, if approved by the committee and ratified by all councillors in October, will be progressed through the council’s Sustainability and Environment Directorate, which is currently ‘undertaking a public toilet strategy’. This strategy is currently ‘considering the provision for Changing Places facilities and staffing resources for public toilets in Newcastle, given the high usage statistics in this area’.
The report notes that notices of motion calling for improved beach access have been tabled in recent years by Mournes Sinn Féin councillor Willie Clarke and former Rowallane Alliance councillor Patrick Brown. In 2019, Cllr Clarke proposed that the council provide ‘disability access onto Newcastle Beach to enable the facility to be inclusive’, and ‘build upon the successful partnership between the Mae Murray Foundation and council in providing an inclusive destination at Cranfield Beach’. Two years later, Mr Brown, now a South Down MLA, called for the local authority to ‘trial the provision of beach wheelchairs, floating wheelchairs and beach access matting on Newcastle Beach, with the intention of expanding to other beach areas in due course’.
The report adds that ‘on behalf of council, the Mae Murray Foundation has completed districtwide feasibility work in relation to identifying opportunities to establish “inclusive beaches” in the council area’. ‘As part of this work, the Mae Murray Foundation has established an inclusive beach in Cranfield, which has been a very successful pilot that has led to a significant increase in inclusive access opportunities and overwhelming support from the public at this beach,’ it reads. It is also highlighted that ‘not every beach can provide the necessary resources and/or infrastructure to become an inclusive beach’. ‘To establish “inclusive beach” status, key components must be in place or have the potential to be established including access, parking, connectivity, toileting, lifting and handling, and participation,’ the report continues. ‘The Newry, Mourne and Down review considered Murlough, Kilclief, Ballyhornan, Tyrella, Cranfield and Newcastle beaches, with Cranfield now established as an “inclusive beach”.’ It is acknowledged, in the report, that there will be ‘payroll resource implications relating to the recommendation’, though ‘it is anticipated that these will be considered as part of the wider implementation of the public toilet strategy’.