Sunday, May 26, 2024
ALLIANCE CALL FOR PAUSE ON MOURNES GATEWAY PROJECT

ALLIANCE CALL FOR PAUSE ON MOURNES GATEWAY PROJECT

THE Alliance Party will call for all
development work on the Mourne
Mountains Gateway Project to be
paused at next week’s council meeting.

A party statement, released this week,
confirmed that its representatives will table a
motion to “halt development of the controversial
gondola until landowner permission for it to be
built can be secured” on Monday.
Earlier this month, the local authority held a
public information event on the £44m project,
which it aims to complete by 2029, and revealed
concept images of the proposed tourism
infrastructure that would link Donard Park to a
visitor centre on Slieve Donard’s Thomas Quarry
by cable car.

South Down Alliance MLA Patrick Brown said
that he has “serious concerns regarding the
amount of money already spent on the Mourne
Gateway project without a public consultation”.
He highlighted that a freedom of information
request had revealed that the council has spent
£317,595 on the project to date – £122,405 on a
Mournes Gateway study/strategic outline case
and £195,190 on an outline business case.
“To have spent over £300,000 without a public
consultation or even agreement from the
National Trust that a gondola and visitor centre
can be built on their land is shocking to say the
least,” said Mr Brown.

“I have serious concerns that the council will
continue to rack up huge costs, knowing the
fundamental issues there are with this gondola
project, in the hope that if they spend enough it
will be too hard to turn back.

“The council have also once again displayed a
complete disregard for transparency by refusing
to provide the estimated cost of the gondola
within the wider Gateway Project, or clarity on
how inflation has affected their pre-Covid
construction cost estimates.”

The MLA called for all parties on council to
“join Alliance in demanding the publication of the
full details of this project, and for a full and
extensive public consultation to be undertaken to ensure the people of the
Mournes and surrounding areas
want this project to go ahead”.
“If other parties are not willing
to do this, they are complicit in
the culture of secrecy that
continues to underpin this
council,” he continued.
“I am therefore pleased to
announce that my colleague,
Cllr Andrew McMurray (Slieve
Croob), has tabled a motion to
the April full council meeting
calling for this full public
consultation to take place, and
for all further development work
on this project to pause until
explicit consent is gained from
the National Trust to build the
gondola.

“I hope councillors will debate
and vote on this motion in an
open and transparent manner,
and not attempt to water it
down or have it deferred to some
obscure subcommittee, as has
been a tactic in the past.”
Alliance Mournes candidate
Jill Truesdale added that there
isn’t “a lot to show” for a
financial outlay of over
£300,000.
“There is no doubt that this
money could have been better
spent,” she said.
“If the council truly wants to
support Newcastle, then they
should listen to the people that
live there and embrace a public
consultation.
“I know I would rather this
money and that planned for the
gondola be spent on improving
trails in the Mournes,
supporting the National Trust
and others in their work to
protect and enhance the
mountains, better public
infrastructure, and a leisure
centre.”

When contacted for comment,
a council spokesperson said that
the project’s outline business
case was “approved earlier this
year”, and that the next stage of
the project will “include the
development of the designs and
further ecological and
environmental surveys and
wide-ranging stakeholder
engagement”.

“The council and its key
stakeholders – National Trust,
Tourism NI and Mourne
Heritage Trust – have been
working in partnership on the
Mourne Mountains Gateway
Project for a number of years,
and, during that time, one of
the areas of focus has been on
the potential environmental
impacts the project will have
locally, both at the Thomas
Quarry site and also across the
wider Mournes area,” she
stated.
“The Mournes area falls under
several environmental
designations, and, as a group,
we have worked together to
specify, procure and complete a
number of significant
environmental studies and
reports to support the project
through the outline business
case process.”

It was highlighted that
additional environmental
scoping studies have been
carried out to “identify and
consider the issues of concern
and how these can be
mitigated/managed as the
project progresses”, and that
“the promotion of the valuable
natural assets across our
district are a key element of the
council’s tourism strategy”.
Feedback received at the
public information day is being
collated and will be shared “in
the coming weeks, along with
frequently asked questions and
answers on the project”.

“The development of this
project will create 477 jobs and
will generate £5.3m GVA (gross
value added) for the local
economy per annum through the
lifetime of the project,” the
spokesperson concluded.
“The current project costs are
projected at £44m at outline
business case stage.
“These cost projections will be
developed further as the project
moves through to the next
stage.”

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