Approval for an integrated consultancy team to be procured for the £44m Mourne Gateway gondola project has been given this week almost 20 years after the plans were first considered.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s (NMDDC) strategy, policy and resources committee signed off on the recommendation, with an attempt failing by Alliance members to defer the procurement in order to seek dialogue with the National Trust.
Furthermore, following concerns by Alliance over a lack of alternatives raised at last Friday’s (Oct 6) project board meeting, council CEO Marie Ward has now tabled a meeting in November, to outline previous and new alternatives to the gondola project.
Ms Ward said: “Following discussion with officers about the project board, I have asked for a further meeting of the project board be held.
“The purpose of that will be to give consideration as to the aspect of the motion particularly in relation to alternatives.
“The details of the seven options that were considered in the development of the Mourne Gateway project will be discussed and will also provide the alternatives that have been put forward by other people.
“Most importantly officers will set out the process of how we have arrived at this project, how it was decided.
“The gateway project was considered back in 2004, so we are nearly on the 20th anniversary of it.
“So, we will set out the implications of any potential change, risk to funding and the fact that that subject is contained within the deal document.
“That will allow us then to bring back a report to the next committee meeting in November.”
NMDDC is seeking a £30m investment from the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD)for the Mournes project, with the local authority putting up the remaining cash to fulfil the major tourism project.
Sinn Fein Cllr Oonagh Hanlon warned the chamber that the Mournes project was up against “stiff competition” from others councils seeking funding from the BRCD and not to “further stall” on the matter.
In support, Slieve Gullion SDLP councillor Pete Byrne argued that by gaining a procurement team, the council could “dispel some of the false news going about on the project”.
However, “red flag” concerns were raised by Downpatrick Alliance rep, Cadogan Enright.
He said: “Having potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on this at this stage by going through a procurement process is a bit of a red flag for myself and for my group.
“I understand that the Department for the Economy asked for a number of things including an update in costs, time lines and most particularly an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the National Trust, who is the land owner.
“To the best of my knowledge the National Trust is not yet on board with this project.
“We would need to at least have sight of the MOU and of where the landowners are coming from on this project before agreeing to a procurement.”
The council was told that the consultancy team would develop the Mournes Gateway project to a final business case level over a six month period.
The appointment of the consultancy team would be subject to council approval at a stage of funding agreement.