Rocky road ahead as £7.5m Gobbins cliff path to stay shut until next year

Concerns are mounting after it emerged that one of Northern Ireland's newest tourist attractions is to remain shut until next year due to ongoing maintenance.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 7th September 2016, 1:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th September 2016, 2:16 pm
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

The Gobbins path – a historic cliffside walkway in Islandmagee, Co Antrim – was opened to huge fanfare last August.

But the £7.5m attraction has been plagued by problems, and has been closed to the public since June due to fears over rockfalls.

The ongoing closure meant the attraction missed out on what should have been bumper periods for tourist visitors during the peak summer months.

And it has emerged that the coastal walkway will remain out of bounds to the public until sometime in 2017.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Mayor Audrey Wales said no date had yet been confirmed for the reopening, adding that the timing and cost would be “dependent on the approach taken in respect of completing the required work”.

But Sinn Féin MLA for East Antrim Oliver McMullan has voiced concerns and is urging Economy Minister Simon Hamilton to provide a detailed breakdown of how much the work is likely to cost.

He added: “While there is no doubt that tourism plays a key role in the economy, local ratepayers are rightly worried about how much it will cost and whether it provides value for money.”

East Antrim DUP MLA Gordon Lyons added that the prolonged closure was “very disappointing”, but remained optimistic that the Gobbins would eventually claim its place as one of NI’s top tourism destinations.

“The way in which this past year has unfolded has been very unfortunate, but once these problems have been sorted out, I am confident that the Gobbins will realise its full potential as a major visitor attraction,” he added.

Describing the closure as “unfortunate” but also “unavoidable”, Mrs Wales said the local authority – which runs the facility – makes “no apologies that the safety of visitors to the Gobbins”.

Consultants will now investigate how to prevent damage to the iconic Gobbins bridges – which are valued at £250,000 each – from rock falls during remedial work.

Other proposals put forward in a briefing to councillors included netting, underpinning of the pathway, and the installation of a drainage pipe.

It had been hoped the attraction would draw more than 70,000 tourists in its first year, but due to ongoing closures there have been just 23,914 paid visitors.

Over half of these visitors came from were from outside of Northern Ireland, including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Nordic area.

The Gobbins was originally installed in 1902 by railway engineer Berkeley Dean Wise as a series of spectacular bridges and gantries, .

After relishing five decades as Northern Ireland’s top tourism attraction, even exceeding the popularity of the Giant’s Causeway in its heyday, the path fell into disrepair and closed to the public in 1954.

But the unique site has been reinstated at a cost of £7.5m, with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council providing more than half of the funding for the scheme.

The dramatic coastal experience offers breathtaking views, white-knuckle walkways and fascinating wildlife, and has been described by Tourism NI as “one of Northern Ireland’s most exhilarating attractions”.