The Gobbins Cliff Path will not fully reopen to members of the public until 2017, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has confirmed.
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 revealed that the council “will not be re-opening the visitor attraction before the end of the year.”
“Just how far into 2017 the opening date will be is not yet known,” she stated.
“This is very much dependent on the approach taken in respect of completing the required work, to ensure that we adequately protect the natural environment within this Area of Special Scientific Interest, that we protect the bridges in situ from any rockfall resulting from the maintenance works and ultimately, to ensure that we make the attraction safe to re-open to visitors.
“Whilst the timing of the closure period during peak season has been very unfortunate, it has been unavoidable and council makes no apologies that the safety of visitors to The Gobbins is, and will always be, our first priority.
“The cost is dependent on the approach we use to complete the works and we are working with our consultants and expert geologists to determine that over the coming weeks,” she concluded.
At a council meeting on September 5, councillors were updated on the path’s four-phase maintenance plan. This will incllude consultants investigating how to prevent damage to the Gobbins bridges, which cost £250,000 each, from rock falls during maintenance work.
“The bridges at the Gobbins would potentially cost up to £250k per structure to replace should they be damaged during the scaling works,” a report warned.
“Therefore the consultants have been tasked to provide solutions to mitigate potential damage to this expensive infrastructure.”
It adds that a geologist has concluded the scaling work has been “successful in reducing the risks to future path users,” but has also advised that the path “should not be reopened to the public until remedial measures for the areas abutting the bridges have been put in place”.
Netting, structural works to underpin the pathway and a permanent drainage pipe are also being put forward, with planning permission required for work on part of the path.
Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan described the news as “concerning” and said he would be raising the issue of the attraction’s ongoing closure in the Assembly.
“I have previously raised this matter with the Minister for the Economy, whose department provided funding for the project,” he stated.
“I requested a detailed breakdown of how much it is likely to cost to reopen.
“While there is no doubt that tourism plays a key role in the economy of East Antrim and that this, along with other attractions, can help bring in visitors, local ratepayers are rightly worried about how much it will cost and whether it provides value for money.
“I intend to raise this matter in the Assembly at the earliest possible opportunity to find out exactly how much it will cost to reopen and maintain The Gobbins in the future,” he concluded.