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Mourne Mountains Gateway Project

Project Aim

“To deliver a world-class tourist attraction that will support the sustainable regional growth of tourism in Northern Ireland and help to position Newry, Mourne and Down as one of the premier tourism destinations on the Island of Ireland. The project will provide major enhancements to the visitor experience in and around the Mournes, whilst protecting and enhancing the natural heritage and habitat of the region.”

A £200 million package of investment is coming to the district through Belfast Region City Deal funding for projects based on tourism, regeneration, and innovation. Other projects benefitting include Newry City Centre Regeneration and the Newry Southern Relief Road.

The Mourne Mountains Gateway Project is potentially transformative for Newcastle and Newry, Mourne and Down.

Scheme Summary

Estimated Project Cost: £44million (£30million from Belfast Region City Deal and £14million from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council).

Construction Proposals: The proposal is for the establishment of a Visitor Centre at Thomas Quarry in the Mournes, with a Gondola uplift that will commence in Donard Park.

Status: RIBA Stage 2 Concept Design - Complete

Background

The concept of the Mourne Mountains Gateway Project has evolved for almost 20 years, stretching back to the Newcastle Tourism Development Strategy and Action Plan in 2004 and South East Coast Masterplan for DSD in 2013.

A Strategic Outline Case and Outline Business Case for the project, developed from 2017 involved consultation with key stakeholders and identified the Thomas Quarry site as the preferred option for the Visitor Centre location.

Outline Business Case approval was secured following consideration by Tourism NI, Department for Economy and Department of Finance in 2022.

Design

This will be a major tourism project in Newcastle, creating a “standout experience” for visitors, that will be sensitive to the environment and local community, and comprise of the following:

Gondola

• Gondola to a Visitor Centre at Thomas Quarry (a distance of 1km and 230m elevation).

• Lower gondola station at Donard Park positioned to ensure protection of protected trees.

• Upper gondola station integrated into the proposed visitors’ centre.

World Class Visitor Centre

• Visitor Centre at Thomas Quarry, recognised as a World Class visitor attraction, catering for 350,000 visitors annually.

• Inspiring building within a beautiful setting, that offers visitors the opportunity to experience the natural surroundings of a unique environment.

• Building will include Viewing Platforms, Flexible events space, Café/ bar, Interpretation Space.

• Design to facilitate scalability and flexibility with a central services area allowing all public areas to be multi use.

• The building has been specifically located to allow views over both the existing site features including waterfall and rock formations as well as over Newcastle, the Irish Sea, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Links from the Visitor Centre

• Managed access onwards in to the Mournes, for example by guided tour. Options to be explored for experienced walkers.

Transport and Ticketing

• Variety of solutions, including transport solutions at Donard Park, Park and Ride at other sites in Newcastle, and on/off street (depending on peak visitor flows, etc).

• Seamless onboarding experience.

• Variety of ticketing opportunities including connections into the town.

• Propose to progress the opportunity to put into place Green Travel Infrastructure to support the project.

Visitor Management Plan

Project design review required for:

  • The Natural Heritage
  • Protection of Wildlife
  • Protection of Natural Habitats eg Erosion Protection
  • Litter Control / Management
  • Promote Cultural Heritage
  • Consider Local Community Impact
  • Manage Tourism and Site Visitors
  • Map and Signpost Access and Roads
  • Map and Signpost Car Parking and Identify Improvements
  • Manage Centre Capacity and Control of Visitors to the site as well as a potential facility to support use by Mountain Rescue and Mountain Rangers.
  • Contingency Planning Requires a Multi-Agency Approach, e.g. Tourism NI, National Trust, MHT, DfI, Ni Water, DEARA, NIEA, DfE, Translink

Sustainability

• Highest environmental considerations for Visitor Centre, operations, and transport, with emphasis on a “light touch” carbon footprint.

• Consideration of wider community impact.

• Priority given to reinvestment back into the protection of the natural environment.

Enhanced Marketing

• Link across other tourism assets including those of the National Trust and provide an enhanced natural tourism offering along the Mourne Coastal Route.

• Link to other assets including the food provenance in Co Down.

Benefits

• Enable Tourism NI to have another “must see” offering for Out of State (OoS) visitors, south of Belfast, balanced between the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Titanic Belfast, and the Giant’s Causeway to the north coast. The Mourne Mountains Gateway Project will further enhance the offering from the Causeway Coastal Route through to the Mourne Coastal Route, on to Dublin, and thus the overall Irish tourism offering.

• Provide a greatly enhanced and accessible Mourne offering, with significant improvements to the infrastructure of Newcastle and its natural assets, to make for visitor experiences which are of international quality.

• Deliver major enhancements to the narrative around the Mournes and the surrounding area and habitat, which shall augment an events programme, and which will make the town an appealing year-round visitor destination.

• Deliver a rebranded and repositioned Newcastle with a heritage/landscape-led tourism package incorporating must-see visitor attractions and offering increased regional dispersity.

• Create jobs in a relatively rural location, ensuring inclusive employment opportunities for all.

• Support local hospitality businesses to address the opportunities from increased OoS visitors to the area.

• Provide an exemplar of a sustainable tourism offering that will attract positive attention internationally.

• Through access to the natural environment, support wider agendas of health and wellbeing.