£9m Northern Ireland activity centre step closer to council approval
A proposal to remodel a Portrush activity centre to include a surf facility, indoor recreation, restaurant and possibly accommodation has taken a major step forward.
Planning officials at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council have recommended approving the major £9m revamp of the former Dunluce Centre.
The once council-owned facility ceased operating in 2013 and was sold in 2016 for around £1m.
The development, which will be undertaken by 360 Leisure, and is described by UUP Councillor Norman Hillis as "colossal", had been stuck in the planning process.
But planning officials have now recommended approval for the project ahead of next week's planning committee.
The report is expected to be given the formal seal of approval by councillors at their monthly meeting.
Speaking about the recommendation, Cllr Hillis said: "I'm pleased that it's moved on to the planning committee.
"The council has been anxiously waiting for the whole plan to progress.
"It is disappointing that it has taken so long. Originally part of the scheme was to open in 2017 with the second phase opening this year and the development finalised in 2019, but there have been delays and planning holding things back.
"It's good to see we are at this stage and providing the planning committee with a recommendation so that we can go ahead and get something done."
Prior to the sale, it was believed the centre was a financial drain on the local council with reports that it cost £45,000 annually to open over an 11-week season.
Should plans be approved for the once thriving Dunluce Centre later this month, 100 jobs could be created upon completion.
The facility, which closed due to dwindling visitor numbers, cost £3.3m to build back in 1993 but the investment to convert it into a new centre, should planning go ahead, will be triple the original cost of the site at around £9m.
Plans submitted by Belfast firm MBA Planning propose "remodelling, refurbishment and extension" to the existing building with recreation areas comprising a surf centre, wet play area, a clip and climb-style climbing wall, a 'Little World of Play' (a small city setup), restaurant and bar, coffee dock, external seating, and community spaces.
The exterior of the building will also be reworked with recladding and "soft landscaping". A sculpture installation is also part of the plans.
Cllr Hillis said: "It's a colossal investment and we believe the developer is going to put his money where his mouth is.
"If it gets planning permission at the end of this month, which I think it will, it's going to be something unique in Northern Ireland and another major added attraction to the tourism offering in Portrush and on the Causeway Coast."
Ahead of the committee meeting, infrastructure authorities have also approved proposals, including Transport NI, NI Water, Environmental Health, Historic Environment Division and DfI Rivers. In a document, planning officials said: "The proposed development is considered acceptable in principle as the site has an established use as an entertainment centre. The scale, design and finishes of the proposed extensions are sensitive to the character of the area surrounding the site. The impact on amenity of neighbours has been considered and it is considered to cause no detrimental impact. Having regards to the Northern Area Plan 2016, the SPPS, relevant planning policy statements and other material considerations, the proposal is considered acceptable. Approval is recommended."
The Dunluce Centre was put on the market by the local council with the stipulation that a buyer must demonstrate interests in developing the site as a tourism facility.
Added Cllr Hillis: "The council ran it for years, we lost money on it and then put it up for sale with obvious restrictions. This developer came up with the most exciting idea. The only bad point is it has taken years to get anywhere."
It is believed that the scheme will benefit from an urban development grant from a Department for Communities fund, a £17m Executive-endorsed initiative to help regenerate the town ahead of the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush.