Sunday, June 16, 2024


A COUNCIL committee will be asked to approve ‘funding arrangements and the appointment of an integrated consultancy team (ICT)’ for the Mourne Mountains Gateway Project when it meets tomorrow (Thursday).

The Strategy, Policy and Resources (SPR) Committee will discuss the issue in closed session, as the matter is ‘deemed to be exempt’ under local government legislation that pertains to ‘information related to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the council holding that information)’. Of the £44m currently budgeted for the Mourne Mountains Gateway Project – which would link Donard Park to a visitor centre on the National Trust-owned Thomas Quarry on Slieve Donard by gondola – £30m is to be funded by the Belfast Region City Deal.

Earlier this month, the local authority ratified a recommendation from the committee to proceed with entering into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Trust in relation to the project. The MOU set out how both parties ‘would communicate and engage on the Mourne Mountains Gateway Project’. In its introduction, the document stated that it ‘does not represent a formal commitment by either party to enter into any future legal agreement’.

It acknowledged that the National Trust is the owner of Thomas Quarry and part of the surrounding Mourne Mountains, which are, it stated, ‘already under considerable pressure from recreation, grazing, wildfires, and traffic and parking demands’. The memorandum added that ‘the council invests heavily in the conservation and protection of the Mournes’, and its aims for the Gateway Project are to ‘boost tourism and regeneration in the area’. ‘The trust and the council have been in preliminary discussions about the possibility of entering into a lease agreement for the use of part or all the property for the proposed visitor centre,’ it read. ‘The trust and the council have agreed that, before entering formal discussions regarding a lease requested by the council, they need to establish a clear and mutually beneficial framework for their communication and cooperation going forward.’ Last October, the SPR Committee voted in favour of beginning a procurement process for an ICT.

Speaking at that meeting, Economy, Growth and Tourism assistant director Andy Patterson said that the procurement process would last for six months, and that an ICT appointment would be “subject to council approval at a later stage of a contract for funding/funding agreement.’’

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