Proposal to explore making Davagh Dark Sky Park a World Heritage Site

Mid Ulster District Council is to explore the process to have its dark sky park designated as a World Heritage Site.

Councillor Sean Clarke, had intended to bring a motion forward calling on Council to take the necessary steps to have the site in Davagh officially designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, shortly before the meeting he agreed to change the wording to ensure that Council could consider the financial implications of such a move.

As such Councillor Clarke proposed that Mid Ulster District Council explores to resolve and take the necessary steps to have the site officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Introducing the motion, Councillor Sean Clarke said: “I believe the Davagh Dark Sky park contains a number of elements of significance which meet the criteria for designation of a world heritage site.”

His party colleague, Councillor Cora Corry described Davagh “as the middle of nowhere and the centre of the universe” and said she would be supporting the motion.

Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan said the work in Davagh over the last number of years has been “pretty spectacular”.

“I think this is the next natural step for Davagh to take. Stonehedge is younger than Davagh and you see the significance of places like it, so thank-you for the motion Cllr Clarke,” he said.

DUP group leader Councillor Paul McLean thanked Councillor Clarke for amending the motion before bringing it to the floor.

“My concern is that this is a very costly process and I would just like to see the whole outworking of the process,” he said.

“I believe there will be a lot of officer input. From what I understand it will be a lot of work, it will be good to get our heads around that and see if there is any funding available that can assist us in that process.”

UUP Councillor Robert Colvin commended Councillor Clarke for the eloquence with which he delivered the motion.

“I do welcome the word explore because the way it was written initially I was concerned Council would have had no more input, this clarification is much appreciated,” said Councillor Colvin.

“This exploration has to take into account the livelihood of people in that area and their ability to develop somewhere close to it, we have to think of the here and now.

“Having made those comments, as long as that is taken into account, we would support the motion.”

SDLP Councillor Kerri Hughes confirmed her party would be supporting the motion and said such recognition would really put Davagh and Mid Ulster as a whole “on the map”.

Councillor Mark Glasgow said the key to this was going to be “getting the balance right” between protecting the site and allowing the local economy to grow.

“From a planning point of view, something could be brought before committee,” said the UUP Councillor. “To ensure we get the right balance that it doesn’t restrict our development plan or business and the further encouragement of tourism in that area.”

His party colleague Councillor Walter Cuddy said his initial reaction was that Councillor Clarke was reaching for the stars with this proposal and said he hoped there was no ulterior motive.

“We are a bit concerned of the time and effort that could be involved in this and hope it is not for other planning applications nearby that if we get this into the pipeline it might effect something nearby,” said Cllr Cuddy.

“If we can pull it off great but I have serious doubts. The park is not even open yet. I would have thought this would have been good in a year or two’s time when we have something sell and get out there.

“That’s why we feel it is maybe a bit too early.”

Ulster Unionist Councillor Derek McKinney also expressed concern in relation to planning.

“We have just come out of lockdown and if this was to go forward that would put the surrounding area back into lockdown as far as planning was concerned,” said Cllr McKinney.

“There is a wider picture to look at here and we need to look at it and see what the consequences may be before we move forward.”

Sinn Fein councillor Sean McPeake said that listening to the last few comments he felt people were a bit unnerved by the proposal.

“This proposal does not do away with lighting, development can still occur and I think some of the nervousness is false.

“I place my trust in Councillor Clarke given his passion for the area.”

In conclusion Councillor Clarke thanked the chamber for the opportunity to bring the motion forward.

“I thought about this for a long time. The dark sky park area is a limited area,” he said.

“I thought it was better to keep it compact so that it does not impact on the surrounding community.”

The motion received unanimous support in the chamber.

Thanking the chamber and describing the motion as a step forward for Mid Ulster, Councillor Clarke invited everyone in the chamber “to come in the near future and see what is there and what we are talking about”.

Adam Morton , Local Democracy Reporting Service