A MOUNTAIN cable car resembling a ski lift is one of the main features in a massive plan to revamp south-east Ulster.
The device would take visitors from Newcastle up into the Mourne Mountains and could be built in as little as five years.
Called the Donard Gondola, the novel-sounding scheme is one of a package of proposals which came out yesterday in a government blueprint called the South-East Master Plan.
The master plan was actually first mooted last March, when its proposals were put out to consultation.
Now the final report has been published.
The 67-page document from Nelson McCausland’s Department for Social Development and local councils sets out measures to shore up the fortunes of the area’s economy, and in particular its tourism industry.
However, details for much of the building plans remain to be finalised – including for the gondola itself.
There is no cost for the project indicated, and the document stresses that “further consultation and feasibility work” needs to be done into it.
It is suggested that it run from Donard Park at the foot of the mountain range to Millstone Quarry or Thomas Mountain Quarry. The time frame for the project is listed as being between five and 10 years.
Asked to describe the Donard Gondola, John McArdle, the mayor of Newry and Mourne, said: “You know one of those lifts you see on the ski slopes in Switzerland?
“The whole idea is to open the Mournes, that whole range, up to tourism. I’m delighted to hear this thing is in the offing. I’m a passionate believer that we’re not selling the Mournes as they should be sold.”
But he added: “I’m surprised they’re calling it ‘gondola’. I thought those were one of the things you saw in Venice.”
In the master plan itself, it bills the device as follows: “To fully enjoy the Mournes the visitor must be reasonably fit, be prepared and have sufficient tome to complete a trek.
“The gondola would provide a facility which would enable everyone, including families with young children and disabled users, to access the Mourne Mountains.”
The plans may include building a cafe at the end of the cable car line.
The scheme is based on a similar one in Scotland – the Nevis Range gondola.
Among the other proposals in the master plan are a new marina for Warrenpoint. Gerard McGivern, Newry and Mourne council’s district development director, said this could have as many as 200 berths, and could be accompanied by a facelift of the town square and traffic system.