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Gobbins path to stay shut for several more months

By Noel McAdam

Published 07/09/2016

The spectacular, if so far ill-fated, Gobbins walkway in Co Antrim
The spectacular, if so far ill-fated, Gobbins walkway in Co Antrim

The trouble-hit Gobbins cliff path is set to remain shut for the foreseeable future.

It is expected it will take several more months to find a solution to persistent problems which have kept the £7.5m tourist attraction closed all summer.

The east Antrim walkway will not now open before the end of this year - and when the shutdown will finish in 2017 is not known.

No further bookings for the spectacular walk are being taken - and customers who have already booked are being given refunds.

Mid and East Antrim Council, which runs the attraction, said its primary concern remained the safety of people using the path.

Along one half of the walkway - the section from the entrance - a planning application for netting in four areas has to be submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

But even when it is granted, it will take up to a further month to install the netting - preventing rockfalls from hitting the pathway.

And a report submitted to the council said that along the second half of the path netting "would not be acceptable due to the disruption to wildlife".

"This will involve a more complex and longer term solution which will also require planning permission and so this section of path will not be accessible to the public in the immediate future," the report added.

Initially it was estimated the project would draw in more than 70,000 visitors in its first year, but a series of setbacks has meant that just 23,914 paying customers have enjoyed the historical construction.

Business was first disrupted between January and April due to storm damage, and then its reopening was shortlived when it was shut again on June 20 because of increased levels of rockfall. It has not been opened again since and the council cannot say when it is likely to.

"No further bookings are being taken," a spokesman said yesterday. "All customers who booked before August this year have been informed and have been offered refunds or the opportunity to rebook after the path re-opens."

As the Belfast Telegraph revealed last month, a full scaling of the cliff-face by specialist geologists involving forcing any loose rocks and debris to fall rather than waiting for them to dislodge naturally, had been carried out. But the report presented to councillors this week revealed: "Whilst the geologist has concluded that the scaling work has proved successful in reducing the risks to future path users, members should note that the consultant geologist has also stated that the path should not be opened to the public until remedial measures for the areas abutting the bridges have been put in place, as our focus remains the safety of the public."

Mid and East Antrim Mayor Audrey Wales said: "Unfortunately we will not be re-opening before the end of the year. Just how far into 2017 the opening date will be is not yet known.

"This is very much dependent on the approach taken in respect of completing the required work, 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 rockfall resulting from the maintenance works and ultimately, to ensure that we make the attraction safe to re-open to visitors.

"Whilst the timing of the closure period during peak season has been very unfortunate, it has been unavoidable and the council makes no apologies that the safety of visitors to the Gobbins is, and will always be, our first priority."

The latest blow to the restored historic walkway comes after a council delegation travelled to the United States to promote the Gobbins at a cost of £10,000. Campaign group the Taxpayers Alliance warned ratepayers would be outraged at the expenditure on what it claimed amounted to a "jolly".

But the council continues to insist the money is not wasted.

Councillor Wales added: "We remain extremely encouraged by the initial popularity of the attraction and, in particular, the high number of international visitors we welcomed during our first year of operation - 55% of people visiting came from overseas. The feedback on Tripadvisor and through our visitor centre was exceptional and so we are very much looking forward to re-opening during 2017," she said.

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