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Co Down forest park could be transformed in multi-million tourism and recreation plans

Council told of park's 'exceptional tourism and recreational potential'

A Co Down forest park could be in for a multi-million pound makeover if all goes according to plan.

Substantial funding requests are to be made in the hope of transforming Castlewellan Forest Park.

Heritage Lottery Fund is expected to be asked to contribute £1 million, with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council having to match that to the tune of another £1 million if successful.

A futher £500,000 is also being sought from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, again with match funding required.

Additional sources are also likely to be explored.

The council’s enterprise, regeneration and tourism committee will be asked on Monday to give the nod to proceeding down the developmental path for Castlewellan Forest Park.

Councillors will be asked to approve the requests for funding, with a full application to go to Heritage Lottery then in the summer.

They will also be asked to give the go-ahead to procure the necessary services and contracts, including economic appraisal, business plan, design team and contractors.

The council wants to be in a position to proceed if funding applications are approved.

Councillors, in a report to committee, have been told that Castlewellan Forest Park has “exceptional tourism and recreational potential”.

It adds: “Funding would enable council to develop significant projects on site, however, the applications will require a commitment from council to provide match funding.

“Expenditure is also required to develop the applications to maximise their chance of success when competing against other projects from other organisations.”

A project ‘task and finish board’ for Castlewellan was established in 2016 and met again last month, to bring these recommendations for funding to committee.

The report states: “Castlewellan Forest Park, and in particular the park’s Arboretum, Annesley Garden and Grange Buildings have been examined with regard to council submitting funding applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the DAERA Rural Tourism Scheme.

“It is expected that applications will be lodged in 2018.

“The park is undoubtedly of heritage significance; however, the heritage is currently in a declining state and therefore would require investment for its preservation and promotion.

“Whilst the park is currently owned and managed by Forest Service NI, council are currently liaising with Forest Service Northern Ireland with regards to the future management of the park.

“Consultants have been appointed to conduct studies in respect of biodiversity, built heritage, the Arboretum and Annesley Garden, traffic and car parking. These studies are required in order to develop funding applications.”

If could be 2019/2020 before the project moves to the development stage, provided all else goes according to plan.

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