Mournes Gateway plan edges closer

Mournes Gateway plan edges closer

14 October 2020

AN outline business case which is a critical part of a proposed flagship tourism project in Newcastle is due to be submitted this month.

A hugely ambitious plan to deliver a new a gondola ride into the Mournes is one of several major proposals which make up the Mournes Gateway project which hopes to secure funding under the Belfast City Regional Deal.

A series of proposals aimed at shaping future tourist provision in Newcastle are among the key projects included in a bid by Newry, Mourne and Down Council for a share of £1bn investment package under the so-called city deal.

The deal is a package of funding and decision making powers which allow councils to boost the economy through the development of large projects in their respective areas. 

Designed to allow councils to take charge and responsibility of decisions that affect their area, the deals also focus on ways to help businesses grow, create economic growth and decide how public money should be spent.

The Mournes Gateway project is currently at the outline business case development stage with a multi-disciplinary team appointed to progress the work ahead of a bid being submitted within weeks, with the news confirmed at Monday’s meeting of the local authority’s Enterprise Regeneration and Tourism Committee.

An economist is also working with the council team compiling the business case, with the local authority one of five councils paired with Belfast City Council, universities and the private sector who have committed £100m to help deliver a raft of schemes, with the remainder of the cash expected to come from the Treasury and Northern Ireland Executive.

In addition to the suggested gondola ride, other aspects of the Gateway project bid include an ultra-modern visitor centre at the site of the old quarry at Thomas’ Mountain, with the proposals expected to be delivered with the help of a range of funding partners to significantly increase the number of visitors to the resort.

Other proposals include an Alpine coaster ride enabling people to hurtle down the side of the mountain on a single track in a buggy, with Newry, Mourne and Down hoping to secure £35m from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Other aspects of the planned tourism scheme include an elevated tree top walk in Tollymore Forest Park, a new visitor centre and bird hide at Murlough Nature Reserve and a new bridge constructed under the main Kilkeel Road at the Bloody Bridge on the outskirts of the town.

There are also proposals to reduce the the tree line in Donard Forest on the slopes of the Mournes and the development of a so-called green travel network which would allow visitors to hire bicycles and electric bikes to make their way round various attractions.

The various proposals which form the core of the Mournes Gateway project have already been discussed with the National Trust, Forest Service, Environment Agency and other key agencies.

If the outline business case is approved, work on a full business case would then commence with this process expected to take some time to complete, given the level of forensic detail that will be required.

Politicians were told on Monday that it’s hoped a document encompassing all projects under the city deal umbrella from all the participating councils will be completed by the end of the year.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council is making a contribution of up to £65,000 towards the development of the city deal’s employability and skills programme, regional digital programme, tourism research, communication and engagement and programme assurance.

All meetings involving city deal projects are currently being held on line to comply with coronavirus restrictions, with all the various outline business cases due to be assessed by the Departments of Finance and the Economy.

This will be followed by extensive engagement and consultation with government departments and city deal partners on the progression of projects which will be rigorously scrutinised to ensure they are robust and effective in delivering in a post-Covid economy.