Belfast Telegraph

Center Parcs eyes an Ulster expansion after first Irish holiday resort

By Sara Neill

It's been described as Butlins for the middle class - and it could be set to come to Northern Ireland.

Center Parcs is planning its first resort in the Republic, and its boss has revealed the firm could be tempted north of the border if it is a success.

The short-break company is developing its newest venture near Ballymahon, Co Longford, which is less than three hours from Belfast.

Chief executive Martin Dalby said: "This project is about serving the whole of the island.

"We would not have any plans currently for parks in the north, but that's not to say, with the expansion of the leisure industry, that it wouldn't happen in the future."

Still subject to planning permission, the €200m (£135m) project is expected to open in 2019.

Center Parcs aims its holidays firmly at the family market, with cupcake-making, scuba diving, cheerleading and fencing among the range of activities.

While children enjoy supervised adventures, parents relax in the sauna or self-catering lodges, set in the heart of natural woodland.

There is nothing of this scale in Ireland, with all five existing sites in England.

Once built, the new park will have capacity for up to 2,500 guests on a 375-acre site at Newcastle Wood, just outside the small Irish town.

Ballymahon is located 13 miles from junction 9 of the M6 motorway which runs between Dublin and Galway.

Mr Dalby expects families from Northern Ireland to make the journey to Ballymahon.

He said: "We want to consider the whole of Ireland as catchment area for this new site.

"We looked at the overall marketplace there's a very strong demand for our holidays. We think it's big enough to take a park in Ireland, and it will fill up like our other sites.

"Newcastle Wood is a very central location. There are good transport links, so it's easy to get here, and the forest is very mature. Those are both big ticks for us."

With 500 lodges planned, the first Irish Center Parc will cater for up to 2,500 guests. The development will provide more than 100 indoor and outdoor activities, a spa, a range of restaurants, and a swimming area with water rides.

Mr Dalby said: "Center Parcs offers a family holiday destination that's tranquil, relaxing and a great place to spend time with kids.

"We find once people have been once to a Center Parcs village, they keep coming back."

Darren Seaton, from Dundonald, has two children. He has never been on a Center Parcs holiday before, but believes the new village in the Republic will make activity-based holidays more accessible.

"I like the activities they have and the type of accommodation, it's an easy holiday for the family.

"With Center Parcs coming here I would not have to pay a ferry across to England, which is probably half the cost.

"I've priced activity-based family holidays before, but when you add up the ferry and the stay there, sometimes it's cheaper just to get a plane to Spain.

"With this being a big brand you've confidence in, it would be pretty good holiday."

The leisure company's chief previously hinted at a development in Ireland.

In 2008, Mr Dalby said the Woburn Forest site in Bedfordshire would be the last one built in the UK - and a potential sixth village would likely be in Ireland. Seven years later, that is coming to fruition.

Read more:

Center Parcs to open first holiday resort in Ireland - €100m forest village would have villas, spas and a 'swimming paradise' 500 jobs in Center Parcs plan There are plenty of activities to keep the kids happy

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