Belfast Telegraph

Go-head for observatory in 'dark' heart of Sperrins

By Kate Buck

Star gazers will flock to Co Tyrone when a 'Dark Sky Observatory' similar to one at Dalmellington in Ayr, Scotland, is created.

The first of its kind in Northern Ireland, the £900,000 project got the green light from Mid Ulster Council's planning committee yesterday.

It will be located at Davagh Forest in the heart of the Sperrins, one of the few places in the province where light pollution does not affect the view.

The concept has been designed by Teague and Sally architects, and will include an observatory, visitor hub and 'glamping' pods at the site, which is already a popular mountain biking and walking destination.

Mid Ulster Council said: "The council has prioritised the development of a Dark Sky Observatory in order to provide a stand-out experience of the visitor by maximising the unique selling point of having the darkest sky in Northern Ireland at the Beaghmore stone circles site as a result of the lack of light pollution. As part of the visitor experience, the council hopes to be able to offer glamping at Davagh. All the plans, however, are at a very early stage."

The proposed five glamping pods will allow tourists to view the night sky uninterrupted by light pollution. Each pod will come complete with bathroom facilities, a kitchen and two beds, for visitors to gaze up at the stars.

All of the buildings will be clad in a timber finish, to offer a "sympathetic development" to the surrounding forest. Meanwhile, the council also approved a proposal from Kildress Wolfe Tone's GAC.

The club is to get a new community building incorporating sports, leisure and cultural facilities, including team changing rooms, a multi-purpose hall, gym, conference and community space.

However, a sustainable development proposal for a wind farm was refused on the grounds of its significant visual impact in the Sperrins' Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its potential to detract from the development of tourism and important archaeological sites, as well as its direct impact on neighbouring dwellings.

Chair of Mid Ulster Council's planning committee Cathal Mallaghan said: "Our role is to enhance areas like the Sperrins for the benefit of local people and visitors, while protecting what is also a significant natural heritage site.

"These decisions show sustainable development in action, using our natural assets to draw visitors and contribute to Mid Ulster's tourism goals."

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