Planners give boost to plans for regeneration at Castlewellan park

Planners give boost to plans for regeneration at Castlewellan park

18 March 2020

PROPOSALS for a multi-million pound investment at Castlewellan Forest Park have received a major boost from local planners.

A new £5.6m investment programme designed to make the 1,100 acre park one of the best in Ireland is being spearheaded by Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

The local authority has appointed a dedicated design team to oversee major redevelopment work at the sprawling park and is working closely with the Forest Service on the planned redevelopment.

Planners are also helping advance the project by approving a raft of ambitious plans which have been drawn up to increase the park’s visitors.

The green light has been given for a new visitor interpretation centre at the 12-acre walled garden at the centre of the park’s critically acclaimed arboretum, in tandem with a new single-storey lean-to extension.

Planners have also approved the reinstatement of the park’s propagation and orchid houses, the refurbishment of the Bothy Yard’s historic glasshouse and a new platform lift to the terrace area.

The local authority has to date secured almost £750,000 in grant aid towards the cost of the ambitious project and committed just over £1m of its own money.

A fresh application for £2.7m in funding is to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund in June, with an anxious wait until September to discover whether the bid has been successful.

The funding secured to date has been provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£247,000) and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (£500,000).

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

The proposed development project aims to create a new vision for the historic Castlewellan demesne, delivering what is being described as a “heritage-led destination” to connect people with their built and natural heritage.  

Council officials and local politicians are 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.

The local authority currently holds a 20-year operating licence for the park’s walking, bike and horse riding trails, in addition to play facilities.

The organisation is also hoping to secure a lease for the hugely popular park from the Forest Service and confirmed that once funding has been secured and the lease secured, construction work will start.

Local people are to be asked for their views on the redevelopment of the forest park with public consultation on the way forward to be held sometime next month. Two previous consultation exercises have already been held.

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 Bothy Yard and pathways which wind their way through the Rhododendron Wood.