Cost concerns over gondola attraction

Cost concerns over gondola attraction

7 February 2024

A REPORT on the updated costs and budgets for the highly ambitious Mournes Gateway project, which features a cable car ride into the heart of the mountains, is due shortly.

The news was confirmed at Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s annual rates meeting on Monday night.

It is suggested that what is being billed as a “world class tourism attraction” for Newcastle could open in 2029, but public opinion on its success is split.

A number of local politicians are also concerned that the estimated £44m cost – which is being financed by the Belfast City Region Deal and the local authority – could increase and that the district’s ratepayers will be left to finance more than the £14m the council has already committed to.

Mournes Alliance councillor Jill Truesdale highlighted her party’s concern about the viability of the biggest ever capital development proposed for the district and controversial plans for a £20m spend on a new council headquarters in Newry.

She claimed council management has not yet disclosed updated project costs for the Mournes Gateway proposal which the Department for Economy asked for in November.

In addition, she said the council is planning to spend £2m next year on consultancy fees for the project.

“As a party grouping, we are not comfortable with embarking on such huge capital projects with speculative costs that may hit ratepayers in the pocket for years to come. But despite our concerns, we fully support our workers seeking the pay deal they deserve,” Cllr Truesdale added.

In response, council chief executive Marie Ward said the council’s cost estimates for Mournes Gateway the project had not increased.

However, she confirmed there are ongoing discussions about the allowance being built into the project to cover possible future construction, inflation and other risks and that have not been agreed at this point.

Mrs Ward said she met last week with the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Economy and that discussions are ongoing, with a report on project costs and budgets due to be presented by council consultants shortly.

The £44m flagship tourism project is designed to position the local area as one of the province’s premier tourism districts, create 33 new jobs and encourage additional investment in Newcastle and wider area, particularly in new visitor accommodation.

It is being suggested that if the year-round international tourism project gets the green light, it could attract 365,000 visitors annually after five years in business, generating just over £5m for the district.

A cable car will transport visitors from a base station in Donard Park up over trees in Donard Forest to a major new visitor centre which will be built at Thomas’s Quarry.

Early concept designs show the proposed new centre, built from sustainable materials and featuring a cafe/restaurant and interpretative centre. It will be raised above the quarry floor on stilts to ensure it will have minimal impact on the existing quarry site.

The aim is to ensure the proposed centre will be as sustainable and as carbon neutral as possible and, that where possible, local materials will be incorporated during construction with the project.

All work will be subject to Environment Agency scrutiny.