Emergency Stormont question on Gobbins closure costs

The entrance to the Gobbins cliff path at Wise's Eye.  Picture by Press Eye
The entrance to the Gobbins cliff path at Wise's Eye. Picture by Press Eye

East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan has tabled an emergency question to the Economy Minister over the cost of the Gobbins’ Cliff Path’s continuing closure.

The Sinn Fein representative took the action after Mid and East Antrim Borough Council announced that the £7.5 million facility will not fully reopen to members of the public until 2017.

Oliver McMullan.

Oliver McMullan.

Work is currently ongoing to repair the path at the flagship tourist attraction, which has been closed for six of the 12 months since it first opened due to a landslip and maintenance work to prevent rock falls.

In a statement, Mayor Audrey Wales said that “how far into 2017 the opening date will be is not yet known.”

Mr McMullan now wants Minister Simon Hamilton to bring the details of the costs associated with the closure and maintenance costs before the Assembly.

“I want to make it clear that this is not about kicking the Gobbins project, it is something that I welcomed and indeed helped to promote as going to be a major tourist attraction on the Antrim Coast Road,” he told the Times.

“As the MLA for the area I look upon tourism as one of the biggest assets we have and something has to be done about the Gobbins.

“This is a major tourist attraction with nearly £8 million of investment and it is a project of major public interest.”

Mr McMullan also criticised the fact that several updates on the Gobbins have taken place in closed council, from which the press are barred.

“What exactly are they hiding?” he asked.

“These problems have been dealt with in committee behind closed doors and that is wrong, if there is a problem come out and say it.

“There are some questions which Mid and East Antrim Council have to answer. Firstly, in the initial engineer’s report on the Gobbins was there any mention of probable rock falls.

“Secondly, at the present time we don’t know how much this costs, and it is likely that the cost has got to be met by the rate payers.

“The present closure is the most serious as it was closed all summer and now won’t open until next year.

“If it has been closed all summer it has lost a summer’s income, we have got staff wages that have to be paid by council and council can’t count on the income generated at the Gobbins.

“The loss of income needs to be built into the costs; they said that it would need to attract 75000 people a year to wipe its face and with no-one coming in it certainly isn’t doing that.

“We also don’t know how much repairs will cost to have it open again under full health and safety guidelines.

“I have heard a figure of up to £1million and that needs to be confirmed by council.”

Mr McMullan also questioned whether money would have to be diverted from other projects in the borough to fund the Gobbins repairs.

“Are they going to get a grant or is this coming out of the public purse?” he continued.

“Once again the rate payer could have to pay and it may have to come out of other council programmes across the area.

“Budgets may have to be diverted to the Gobbins, or the other way of raising money is through a hike in rates.

“Either way the council have a duty to make this information public.

“Rate payers are entitled to know what is happening with their money.”

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council stated: “Within Part 8; and s.42; and schedule 6 of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, provision is made in relation to meetings of Council closed to the public.

“In the case of the Gobbins update, this matter contained privileged information considered by the Act to be exempt under several of the exemptions set out in schedule 6.”