Rocky start for new tourist spot as Gobbins succumbs to Mother Nature
Barrage of winter storms closes stunning cliff path until Easter due to safety concerns
Northern Ireland's newest tourist attraction, the historic Gobbins pathway, is to remain closed until the end of March, it has emerged.
Storm damage to the restored spectacular cliff-edge walk forced its closure a month ago - not long after it opened in August.
Work has started to ensure it re-opens as soon as possible, but the Belfast Telegraph can reveal this may not be until Easter, at the end of March.
East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson said the closure had come just as tourism chiefs were planning a major promotional push for the east Antrim attraction.
The Alliance man voiced concern over the attraction being closed for so long.
"The prime issue is, of course, public safety, but I do know that Tourism Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board are intending to heavily promote the Gobbins this year, including for the Easter period," he said.
"It is up to Mid and East Antrim Council to ensure that the promotion of this spectacular attraction is protected, and that when people decide they want to visit they can be reasonably sure that it will be open.
"That said, of course, it is impossible to completely insure against the damage which bad weather can do, and we have had some incredibly big storms this winter.
"I am not a civil engineer, but I would have thought that during the construction phase account would have been taken of what to do in a case like this, though I agree the first priority is a clear duty of care to the public."
Mid and East Antrim Council, which took over the Gobbins from the former Larne Borough Council, previously reported damage had been caused to the main access pathways as a result of a landslip due to the high levels of rainfall and the recent storms.
"Since the temporary closure, (we have) been working with engineers to assess the landslip," it said. "Work has commenced to put in place a new drainage system that will help manage this, and repairs of the main access pathways will commence as soon as possible.
"We will continue to work closely with the contractors, with the aim to open the Gobbins ahead of the Easter weekend."
After a special council meeting on January 11, experts were brought in to assess the degree of damage.
The council also said it "apologises for any inconvenience caused" and was "working to get the attraction back open to the public again as soon as possible".
An area of basalt sea cliffs up to 60m in height, the project has revived the original Gobbins cliff path, installed in 1902 by engineer Berkeley Dean Wise, and involves an up to three-hour walk through a series of spectacular bridges and gantries and back again.
Meanwhile, the Assembly has heard a major inspection of sea defences along the entire Antrim Coast Road is to be conducted in the spring.
Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said it was vital the world-famous route - which has taken a battering this winter - is kept safe and open.