Gobbins cliff path hindered by ‘nanny state’ rules

The Gobbins path near Islandmagee, Co Antrim
The Gobbins path near Islandmagee, Co Antrim

A former councillor who was on the steering committee for The Gobbins project has said an “overly cautious” approach may be hindering the £7.5m tourist attraction.

The cliff path at Islandmagee has been closed for 10 of the 17 months since it was reinstated in August 2015 after being closed for six decades.

In the most recent update Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said it is “working towards reopening The Gobbins prior to the peak visitor season in 2017”.

The attraction was forced to close at the beginning of the year due to a landslide, and after reopening in spring, it was closed again in June for essential maintenance.

Council said the work was “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 rock fall resulting from the maintenance works and ultimately, to ensure that we make the attraction safe to reopen to visitors”.

As of October the maintenance costs had reached £82,000.

John Mathews, a former councillor whose home overlooks the attraction, said this summer he had visited a cliff path in the Spanish Pyrenees called Gorge de Monte Febau which contrasted markedly with The Gobbins.

He said: “It has four kilometres of path cut into the cliff with no handrail on the outside where there is a sheer drop.

“There’s no hard hats or safety shoes. Of course there’s health and safety but it’s not over the top.

“Over here we’ve got to the stage where we’re afraid of our own shadow. I’m not saying throw caution to the wind, but being overly cautious can be just as bad. We’re living in a nanny state.”

The former Alliance councillor continued: “Because of my interest in The Gobbins I made a few inquiries.

“I was told this cliff path in Spain is getting 80,000 visitors a year and the guide told me to the best of her knowledge they hadn’t lost anyone.”

He continued: “It’s no wonder people are treating The Gobbins as a joke.

“It’s an outstanding tourist attraction which hasn’t been able to reach its potential.”

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Audrey Wales MBE, said: “Maintenance work at The Gobbins continues to progress, just how far into 2017 the opening date will be is not yet known.

“We remain extremely encouraged by the initial popularity of The Gobbins attraction and in particular, the high number of international visitors we welcomed during our first year of operation. Fifty-five per cent of people visiting came from overseas.

“Our original projections for year one were 37,500 visitors and in the seven months we were open we had over 24,000 paying visitors.

“The feedback on Tripadvisor and through our visitor centre was exceptional.”