A new cruise ship quay and pontoon along Londonderry’s quayside is to be open as early as next summer — providing a welcome boost to the tourism potential of the River Foyle.
The Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners have revealed that it has commissioned Mallusk-based McLaughlin and Harvey Ltd construction firm to develop the mooring facilities on the River Foyle.
The works on the EU-funded £1.3m project will be sited downstream at Meadowbank, with the new facilities designed to serve as a marine event platform.
Preparatory works are now under way and it is expected the new facilities will be open and operational by early summer 2012.
One tour operator in Derry said the move will mean that many more tourists can be ferried right into the city rather than at present having to berth near the mouth of Lough Foyle at Greencastle in Co Donegal and transfer by coach.
Port Harbour master Bill McCann described the move as a “positive step towards harnessing the potential of the River Foyle for tourism and commerce”.
He said: “The new cruise ship quay at Meadowbank, together with the new pontoon, add significantly to the marine facilities that we offer on the Foyle, which is particularly important with the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race calling at Derry in 2012.”
Chief executive of the Loughs Agency, Derick Anderson, said the major infrastructure project “promises to aid the development of tourism along the Foyle and in the north west generally, including Inishowen”.
Mr Anderson added: “The new waterfront infrastructure may reveal fresh opportunities for those planning events in the region, for instance, City of Culture in 2013.”
Shaun Henry from the Special EU Programmes Body highlighted the strategic importance of this initiative for the region.
“This project will allow the local tourism sector to draw on the natural environment of the region and its natural tourism resources.
“This is likely to attract a higher number of domestic and overseas visitors, contributing to improving the performance of the overall tourism industry, one of the key priorities of the INTERREG IVA Programme.
“By increasing the offer for high quality marine facilities in the area, it also builds on the strong cultural and economic linkages that exist between western Scotland, Northern Ireland and the west coast of Ireland, where marine tourism is in expansion.”
The tourism sector in the north west last night lauded the move as a vital piece of infrastructure.
Odhran Dunne, visitor services manager at Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau, said: “This is a major opportunity to be able to bring cruise liners into the city and that will bring quite a number of benefits for tourism trade, retail and tour guides.
“It is also great from a profiling perspective so we can market ourselves as a cruise destination.
“With Clipper coming next summer it is an opportune time for us to ensure the tourism market, and particularly the leisure and yachting market, is catered for.
“We will be in a position then by 2013 to take in more visitors. It is perfect timing.”
The new project is supported by funds from the European Regional Development Fund. The Loughs Agency is lead partner in an Interreg IV programme that secured this funding for some much-needed infrastructure.