Wednesday, March 22, 2023


NEW images of the £44m Mourne Mountains Gateway Project, which the council hopes will be operational by 2029, have been made public. The concept design pictures – along with a computer generated video of the proposed tourism infrastructure that would link Donard Park to Slieve Donard’s Thomas Quarry by gondola – will feature at an information day being held in Newcastle tomorrow (Thursday). Last Thursday, the Mourne Observer attended a council hosted media briefing on the project – to be funded through the Belfast Region City Deal (£30m) and by the council (£14m) – at which advance previews of the images and video were presented. Speaking at the event, Andy Patterson (Tourism, Culture and Events assistant director) said that the aim was to establish “a major international tourist attraction that will sit alongside the Giant’s Causeway, Titanic Belfast and Hillsborough Castle”, and to “tap into the long-haul market”. “We are going to design a very iconic, world-class visitor attraction here – that is the ambition,” he added. “The project is about giving tourists another option outside of Dublin and Belfast, and about bringing more visitors to the island.” He also stressed that it was “a regenerative tourism project” with a focus on “sustaining the site” and “leaving it better than it is now”. Building on this, Conor Mallon (Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism director) said that they are “very aware of protecting the nature of Donard Wood” along the proposed 1km route, and that there was the potential to settle the cable cars “within the trees as opposed to above them”. He acknowledged that there is still “a lot of work to be done” in relation to the final design, though stressed that “the facility will be designed in a way that it will be accessible to all” and that “there will be minimal impact on the site”. Concept designs of the Thomas Quarry visitor centre illustrate that it would consist of a weathered steel tower – “a nod to the previous use of the site”, according to the director – and a stilted glass fronted building, which would be prefabricated, enhancing the development’s sustainability and allowing for a future restoration of the site. Mr Mallon highlighted that there would be controlled access at the visitor centre, in terms of who arrives and who leaves. “This is not a taxi ride halfway up the mountain for people to be released in an uncontrolled manner across the mountains,” he said. Access will form part of the scheme’s visitor management plan, as will an educational element within the centre, and council will “have to give serious consideration to how increased visitors can impact the local community”.

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