Multi-million pound restoration yard plans

Multi-million pound restoration yard plans

13 January 2021

WORK on an ambitious multi-million pound project to significantly enhance facilities at Castlewellan Forest Park is underway.

Newry Mourne and Down Council is spearheading a major investment programme aimed at restoring the sprawling forest park’s key heritage features to help maximise its tourism potential.

This week it has been confirmed that construction work has commenced at the Bothy Yard, with the local authority submitting a so-called planning advice notice for work to be carried out in other areas of the park.

It 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.

Council officials have secured funding for the ambitious scheme from a number of sources, including the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and EU with a bid also submitted to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (HLF).

Government department funding and local authority investment is financing the restoration of the iconic 19th century greenhouse, reconstruction of the propagation house and cold frames. In addition, one of a number of 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. 

In 2018, the council received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to develop plans and gather evidence of the park’s significant heritage and biodiversity which confirmed that all eight Northern Ireland species of bat have been recorded in the park along with otters, red squirrels, pine martens and very rare species of trees and rhododendrons.  

In addition, the number of ‘Champion Trees’ identified in a recent study makes Castlewellan the second most important arboretum in Ireland, after Glasnevin. 

Stormont agriculture and rural development minister Edwin Poots said tourism was “vitally important” to the rural economy, which was why his department wanted to invest in infrastructure that would help attract more visitors to Northern Ireland and encourage them to stay longer.

He said he was delighted to announce that the Forest Service has signed a license agreement with the local council and that construction and restoration at the Bothy Yard is now underway. 

“I am confident that the works, when finished, will make a visit to Castlewellan Forest Park an even more enjoyable experience and another must-see destination for tourists arriving to this beautiful part of Northern Ireland when Covid restrictions eventually recede,” added Mr Poots.

Council chairwoman Laura Devlin said the council has applied to the NLHF for funding to implement the plans the local authority developed between 2018 and last year.

If the application is successful, the forest park’s natural and built heritage will be restored and protected for future generations, with the local authority agreeing a lease for the core areas within the park from the Forest Service. 

The Grange will be developed into a visitor core with the creation of a welcome centre, community space and café facilities, with the courtyards pedestrianised, transforming the area into vibrant visitor hub and centre for community use with interpretation, activities, environmental education and skills development. 

The core of the park will be conserved and managed sensitively, protecting its important biodiversity. Access will also be improved for all park users with the creation of a woodland walk and a road from Castle Avenue to the main car park.

Council officials say they recognise the forest park’s importance to the local community for outdoor recreation and wellbeing, especially during Covid-19 restrictions, confirming that if funding is received from NLHF, the local authority aims to create a unique visitor experience.

Cllr Devlin explained that to enable project to move to the planning stage, the council has organised virtual public consultation sessions towards the end of this month,  encourage everyone to book a session to view the plans.

“Castlewellan Forest Park is used for a wide range of outdoor activities and it is widely recognised that green open space has positive physical and mental health benefits,” said the chairwoman.

“The proposed developments will not only benefit the residents of Castlewellan, it will generate local economic, social and environmental benefits”. 

The virtual public consultations are scheduled to start the week commencing January 25 and continue until the following Thursday to enable residents, visitors and businesses to view the ambitious plans. 

Artist impressions of The Grange and Courtyards post construction have also been developed to share and visualise the Council’s plans for area. 

To view the plans and to book your space at the virtual public consultation please log onto