Alliance Challenge NMD Council Over Gondola Issue

Alliance says NMD Council is 'determined to avoid giving public a say on controversial Gondola project'.

Alliance says NMD Council is ‘determined to avoid giving public a say on controversial Gondola project‘.

Alliance have expressed serious concern regarding a paper tabled at the Strategic Policy and Resources (SPR) Committee of Newry Mourne and Down District Council last Thursday 14th September.

A report was tabled on the Mourne Gateway Project, which included an update on how the council intended to respond to an Alliance motion in June which forced major concessions on the controversial project.

The report was tabled as ‘For Noting’ at Item 20 in the agenda which normally is a report for councillors to note information and does not require any decision making. It was the second last item on the agenda (Item 20).

Patrick Brown MLA said that the report provided a list of actions that council intended to take or had already taken regarding development of the gondola.

With changing climate patterns, biodiversity is challenged in many ways… including fires in the countryside as well as from vandalism and carelessness from countryside users. Alliance have called on Newry Mourne and Down District Council to hold a full consultation on the proposals to set up a visitor centre at Thomas’ Quarry half way up Slieve Donard and set up a gondola lift.

He added: “Furthermore, hidden within the report councillors were asked to ‘approve recommendations set out at item 2.1 of this report’.

“These items included substantial changes to the motion agreed in June, including attempts to imply that a public consultation had already taken place and no mention of any plans to explore alternatives to the gondola, both of which were agreed in the motion.”

Alliance Councillor Cadogan Enright (Downpatrick) expressed his concern at the committee meeting, highlighting that “the report should have been tabled as ‘for decision’ to allow councillors to openly discuss, debate the report and make a decision on it.”

Cllr Tierna Kelly (Rowallane) echoed similar concerns and highlighted an issue from council regarding “a public consultation with residents, workers and businesses which does not appear to have taken place.”

Cllr Kelly was also disappointed that “no alternative options to the gondola were present in the report nor any action from council to look into it.”

South Down MLA Patrick Brown added: “This report is one of the most shocking cases by council management that I have seen in my time in politics.

“Despite Alliance councillors serious concerns, it appeared Sinn Fein and SDLP were content to undermine the agreed motion.

“Alliance councillors will continue to push back on council management attempts to subvert the June motion and call out other parties for their lack of scrutiny of council officers and governance of the Newcastle gondola project.”

Cllr Truesdale (Mournes DEA) added: “I am hugely disappointed by Council officer’s actions in regards to this report.

“Residents, workers and businesses need to have their say on the Mourne Gateway Project and this simply has not happened.

“There still remains huge concerns regarding the gondola, including impact on congestion and the visual and environmental impact.

“My colleagues and I will continue to voice concerns on the gondola project and ensure there is a robust consultation with the public in place.”

In the Officers Report on the SPR agenda for the 14th September 2023 [Item 20 on SPR Agenda 1th September 2023] officers indicate that they will bring back a paper to the SPR committee that provides a “full and comprehensive update in the status of the project so far [Gondola project and Thomas’ Quarry centre].”

The officers feedback indicated there was a proposal presented to the Council’s Economic Regeneration and Tourism committee in September 2017 initially as part of the ‘Vision and Development Plan for the Mourne Mountains Gateway Project’.

A review panel was set up comprised of the National Trust, Outdoor Recreation NI, the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs, Mountaineering Ireland, NI Water, NIEA, Forest Service and Newry Chamber of Commerce and the Mourne Heritage Trust.

Council approved the projects in September 2020 as part of the overall Belfast City Deal – which included the visitor centre at Thomas’ quarry and the gondola.

The officers report said that it then continued with further consultations.

There is considerable disquiet in Newcastle and beyond about the impact of the setting up of the visitor centre and goldola system while many people are in favour of it and Alliance have pledged their resistance to this element of the Belfast City Deal until a full consultation is completed.

Alliance are in principle content with the other parts of the Belfast City Deal proposal for the Mournes Gateway Project.

It remains to be seen if the bigger political blocks in the council can push the development through, but they will need to come out eventually and say where they stand on the issue of consultation… and to say whether they believe there has been a proper consultation process, or not.