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Time now critical to major tourism play park plan at Gosford Forest Park

Armagh City and District Council will have to sign an official Memorandum of Understanding with Forestry Service or lose out on the chance of a major new tourism play park facility at Gosford Forest Park, Armagh I can reveal.

Between £200,000 and £250,000 of external funding is being made available for the development but time is fast running out.

This was pointed out by officials during the course of a recent site meeting and DUP Councillor Gareth Wilson, at a committee meeting of Armagh City and District Council, said he would like to see the project progressed.

SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon also attended the site meeting and remarked that there was an issue with maintenance which required further discussion. There was also the question of entrance fees which needed to be addressed. He was concerned that families would park on the roadside and walk into the park which he felt was not acceptable.

Councillor O’Hanlon suggested a meeting be arranged including Cusher councillors.

SF Councillor Mary Doyle agreed that issues needed to be discussed further.

The Deputy Director of Recreation and Leisure, Gerard Houlahan, explained that an addendum could be added to the memorandum of understanding in relation to the issues discussed.

He also pointed out that the park would be a tourist product as well as a space for local people to use.

Councillor Doyle agreed that the issue of payment on entry needed to be addressed.

The Deputy Director explained that an entry payment was charged at Loughgall Country Park.

Councillor O’Hanlon suggested further discussions took place and that a report on the matter be brought back.

UUP Councillor Sylvia McRoberts said the project would present a real opportunity to attract tourists to the area and felt that it had great potential, but she was also concerned in relation to the parking on the hard shoulder. In relation to local people being charged an entry fee, she felt that there may be scope for discussion on this.

The Deputy Director explained that the play area at Ashgrove in Markethill was due to be upgraded.

Councillor Doyle said she could also see the potential for development of the area, but added that it was likely that local people would walk in to avoid paying to enter.

It was pointed out that the timeline was critical and the matter needed to be progressed.

In principle it was agreed to proceed and design and planning application can be worked on if required.

It was also pointed out that Forest Service expected that Armagh City and District Council staff would be on site on a daily basis but this would not be the case, something which “needed to be put in writing”.

A further report is to be brought back to a future meeting of Armagh’s Executive Committee before the signing of the memorandum of understanding.

The council will seek to articulate the proposed level of maintenance, health and safety checks and staffing (as per current maintenance inspection regime) so there will be no misunderstanding between the parties from the outset.

If the council does not proceed, it will lose out on the external funding available.

But, as part of the agreement, it will have to provide project expertise/advice, maintenance, staffing and insurance cover for the play park throughout the year. In addition, it will have to agree to replace the development around 2024, if deemed successful.

It is expected that the deal will go ahead, with a view to a contractor being appointed in the autumn and the project completed by January or February of next year.

The park would be the latest in a list of local developments. Earlier this year, the Palace play park opened in Armagh and, this past week, Armagh I revealed plans to press ahead with a themed play park development at the Navan Centre, which has now gone out to tender.

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