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Spectacular Gobbins coastal path is rocked by a second closure right in middle of busy summer tourism season

Safety fears over falling cliff debris behind fresh shutdown of £7.5m visitor attraction

By Noel McAdam

Published 23/07/2016

The Gobbins coastal walkway reopened last year after a £7.5m revamp
The Gobbins coastal walkway reopened last year after a £7.5m revamp
The Gobbins coastal walkway reopened last year after a £7.5m revamp
The Gobbins coastal walkway reopened last year after a £7.5m revamp
The Gobbins path in 1982

Northern Ireland's newest tourist attraction - The Gobbins coastal path - looks like missing out on most of its first summer.

For the historic cliffside walkway in Islandmagee is facing a second shutdown since reopening last autumn.

And staff cannot say when it will be back up and running.

By the time the spectacular walkway marks the first anniversary of its redevelopment it risks having been out of bounds to visitors as often as it has been available to them.

As we are now at the peak of the summer season, concern among tourism chiefs and politicians is mounting.

Tourism Northern Ireland said it hoped the attraction would be back in business "in the coming weeks" - but it cannot give a definitive date.

The body's product development director Laura McCorry said the latest closure was "unfortunate".

Tourism NI has spent thousands of pounds supporting The Gobbins with advertising campaigns, web promotion, social and digital advertising, international Press trips and PR.

The attraction closed on June 20 following an increase in rockfalls from the cliff onto the path. It had been hoped the closure would be for two-three weeks, but it is not clear when The Gobbins will reopen.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, which runs the attarction, said visitor safety was paramount.

The path was previously closed for almost five months after a landslide involving 3,000 tonnes of rock and soil cut off the entrance. It missed out on the Easter holiday period as a result. The then Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said it was "vital" it was kept open.

There are worries the attraction is gaining a reputation that it is not reliable for a day out.

East Antrim DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said: "It's disappointing that The Gobbins is still closed and we are missing out on the first summer of having the attraction open.

"It's understandable that they want to accept bookings in anticipation that it will be open again soon, but this will inevitably lead to disappointment for those whose bookings have to be cancelled. I hope that a date for reopening will be announced soon so that those who book can have confidence that they will be able to walk The Gobbins."

Ms McCorry said: "The Gobbins is one of East Antrim's iconic visitor attractions and while the timing of the essential cliff scaling process is unfortunate, the health and safety of visitors is of paramount importance. Our coastline in Northern Ireland is rugged and spectacular, but like any other is subject to the forces of nature.

"We will continue to work alongside Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to monitor the remedial works and hope to see the attraction open to visitors in the coming weeks."

No detailed figures were available on the amount spent on advertising The Gobbins, although the council-organised promotion trips included the US.

There was no comment from the council yesterday.

The cliff walk, which takes up to three hours to negotiate, was originally created by Irish railway engineer Berkeley Deane Wise.

The engineering marvel is carved into black basalt cliffs and encompasses linked walkways and bridges, including a unique tubular span.

Constructed in 1902, The Gobbins remained a popular day trip from nearby Whitehead into the 1930s, but fell into disuse and disrepair.

After years of campaigning it was reinstated at a cost of £7.5m, just under half of which came from the European Union.

Larne Borough Council provided £4m, with another £200,000 from Ulster Garden Villages Limited.

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