City deals could bring finanacial boost for Newcastle

City deals could bring finanacial boost for Newcastle

13 March 2019

PLANS to deliver a significant multi-million pound tourism bonanza in Newcastle have taken an important step forward this week.

Highly ambitious proposals aimed at shaping future tourist provision in the resort are among the key projects included in Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s bid for a share of £1bn investment package under the Belfast City Regional Deal.

City deals are packages of funding and decision making powers which allow councils to boost the economy through the development of large projects in their respective areas. 

The deals are designed to allow councils to take charge and responsibility of decisions that affect their area, do what they think is best to help businesses grow, create economic growth and decide how public money should be spent.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council is one of five councils paired with Belfast City Council, universities and the private sector which have committed £100m to help deliver a raft of schemes, with the remainder of the cash coming from the Treasury and Northern Ireland Executive.

On Monday, members of the local authority’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee agreed to sign a heads of agreement deal which paves the way for work to start on outline business cases and financial plans for various components of the city deal which includes the Mournes Gateway project.

Local authority officials are expected to work with Tourism NI to help deliver the ambitious proposals aimed at shaping future tourist provision in Newcastle which include a gondola ride into the heart of the Mournes.

The proposal is one of a series of exciting, world class attraction proposals, including an ultra-modern visitor centre at the site of the old quarry at Thomas’ Mountain. 

It is being suggested that work on the business case and financial plans could take around one year to complete, with the various proposals delivered with the help of a range of funding partners to significantly increase the number of visitors to the resort.

And while the main focus is on the major aspects of the tourism initiative — which also include an Alpine coaster ride enabling people to hurtle down the side of the mountain on a single track in a buggy and an indoor activity centre in Donard Park — there are many other components.

The Newcastle tourism project was a key part of the city deal which has secured a near £1bn investment package from the Treasury and Northern Ireland Executive.

Newry, Mourne and Down is hoping to secure £35m from the Northern Ireland Executive and is committing £7m of ratepayers’ money to fund the proposed gondola ride and visitor centre.

And while talks continue to secure cash under the city deal initiative, local council officials are working alongside Tourism NI to secure financial backing for its other aspects and move the various projects through a series of key stages, including the preparation of business cases and planning approval.

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

Consultants appointed by the local authority to look at developing the resort’s visitor infrastructure have also come up with proposals for the Islands Park, with upgrades planned for existing car parks, alongside new public toilet provision. There are also proposals to reduce the the tree line in Donard Forest on the slopes of the Mournes.

A so-called ‘green travel network’ which would allow visitors to hire bicycles and electric bikes to make their way round various attractions is also suggested.

The various proposals form the core of the so-called Mourne Mountains Gateway Study and have already been discussed with the National Trust, Forest Service and Environment Agency. 

Before anything happens, numerous planning and environmental approvals will be required, alongside the compilation of feasibility studies and business cases.

The overarching vision of the gateway project is to provide game-changing, world-class, international tourist attractions which develop sustainable enhancement of access from Newcastle to the Mournes and its foothills and forests, while also broadening recreational provision.