Castlewellan Forest Park upgrade moves forward

Castlewellan Forest Park upgrade moves forward

6 February 2019

AMBITIOUS proposals to restore Castlewellan Forest Park to its former glory and help make one of the province’s leading tourist attractions even better take another significant step forward this week.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council is putting the final touches to a £430,000 funding application which is to be submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to assist with the work at the park.

Last month, the local authority secured almost £250,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help with the exciting redevelopment proposals which are being spearheaded by the council in conjunction with the Forest Service.

HLF officials had made it clear that the application process was very competitive, with council officials delighted they had made a persuasive argument to secure the cash they require. It has also been confirmed that one of the conditions attached to the HLF grant is that council officials review park access, traffic management and parking at the tourist attraction.

Pleased with the progress being made, council officials say securing financial support from the HLF represents a “big achievement” given the other projects they were up against.

Since the 1740s, the forest park was the demesne of the Annesley family, who created a beautiful landscape and a nationally and internationally important 45-hectare arboretum. 

The near £250,000 HLF grant will be used to help fund the development phase of the project, which will work to achieve a vision for Castlewellan Historic Demesne to create a heritage-led destination to connect people with their built and natural heritage.  

The development phase includes surveys of the woody plants in the arboretum and biodiversity of the park, alongside design work to repair and develop the buildings in The Grange and walled garden. Work is also required to carry out further consultations and submit planning applications.

The local authority is keen to see the picturesque forest park’s Arboretum, Annesley Garden and Grange Buildings redeveloped to help increase the number of visitors and provide the area with an economic boost. Officials say the focus is on improving amenities and the interpretation of the park’s natural and built heritage.

A recent economic appraisal recommended the development of what is being described as a  welcome centre in the Walled Garden area designed to provide access via lift to its upper floor, with the local council keen to play a leading role, alongside the Forest Service, to help transform the park’s fortunes and make it even more popular.

Politicians were told at a recent meeting of the local authority’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee that architects have been awarded the tender for an £800,000 project to revitalise the Walled Garden and Bothy Yard and Rhododendron Wood areas.

Councillors have also approved a request to prepare tender documentation for the integrated design team and appointing a project officer to oversee the major regeneration initiative.

Council officials, who hope work can start early next year, have also confirmed that they are considering making a second funding bid to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for the redevelopment of the Grange area.

They are also hoping to secure additional cash under the second phase of the HLF funding programme.

Councillors have also been told that a topographical survey — which could cost as much as £10,000 —will be required to assist with the planning process.

Council officials say while they recognise the park’s undoubted heritage significance, parts of it require investment to preserve them and help promote an area which has “exceptional tourism and recreational potential.”

It is envisaged that initial restoration work will focus on the 12-acre walled garden which is at the centre of the critically acclaimed arboretum, Bothy Yard and pathways which wind their way through the Rhododendron Wood.