Castlewellan £5.5m plan gets planning approval

Castlewellan £5.5m plan gets planning approval

9 June 2021

FORMAL planning permission has been granted for a multi-million pound revitalisation project at Castlewellan Forest Park.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council planners have this week given the green light to the £5.5m proposal which is being supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The local authority is spearheading an ambitious four-year project to significantly enhance facilities at the sprawling park, with the lottery funding earmarked to restore a number of key features to help maximise its tourism potential.

The Heritage Fund has already provided almost £250,000 in financial assistance and has now backed that up with an additional £2.7m, with the local authority investing £2.8m in the revitalisation scheme.

Planners have also agreed to provide listed building consent for aspects of the investment scheme, with construction work already underway at the Bothy Yard in the forest park thanks to funding from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the EU.

Work on the main restoration project is scheduled to start shortly and complete by December 2025, with the local authority agreeing a lease for the core areas within the park from the Forest Service until 2045. 

Proposed work includes new landscape and drainage within The Grange courtyard, a new pedestrian path from the entrance gates to the main car park, a new vehicular road of Castle Avenue to the existing car park. 

There will also be a new traffic control barrier at Castle Avenue.

Caravan spaces will be relocated with the feature entrance gates at the Castle Avenue entrance restored, alongside the restoration of The Grange courtyard buildings and the reconstruction of a derelict building block.

The park’s 19th century greenhouse is also being restored with the reconstruction of the propagation house and cold frames, while one of several outbuildings will be converted to an office and volunteer space.  

Elsewhere, visitor facilities will be created in the Stove Conservatory including an interpretation centre, with a platform lift installed to provide access to the terrance for people with reduced mobility. 

Since 2015, the local authority has been progressing with plans to restore the natural and built heritage of the forest park with several key stakeholders including Forest Service. 

The council’s vision is to create a heritage-led destination which protects the heritage of Castlewellan Forest Park for future generations, whilst also providing opportunities for local people and visitors to learn more about the landscape.

The so-called “Re-rooting our past in the Future: Castlewellan Historic Demesne” project is designed to connect people with the built and natural heritage within the forest park, as well as restoring and celebrating its unique biodiversity. 

This includes the restoration of a living arboretum, containing some of the most significant collection of trees and shrubs on the island of Ireland.

As part of the project, the Grange will be developed into a visitor core with the creation of a welcome centre, community space and café facilities, with the courtyards transformed into a vibrant visitor hub and dedicated centre for community use with interpretation, activities, events, environmental education and skills development. 

In addition, the landscape will be conserved and managed sensitively, protecting its plant collection and important biodiversity.  

Those heavily involved in the project say that it has been designed to deliver the local authority’s vision of transforming the picturesque forest park into a “dynamic, heritage-led destination, restoring, celebrating and interpreting the natural and built heritage of the historic demesne”.  

The Heritage Fund says it is “incredibly proud” to be playing a role in ensuring natural heritage is safeguarded for generations to come, but also that the projects its funds — like the Castlewellan Forest Park scheme —  give people the chance to connect with the nature that is on their doorsteps.