Developers are forging ahead with plans to create an international mountain biking centre at Magheramorne, despite a lack of funding.
Lafarge Tarmac has spearheaded ambitious proposals to create a mountain biking and diving centre at the disused, 73 hectare quarry on Shore Road. The plans, which date back as far as 2005, also feature a harbour village in the old works area as well as film studios, a railway museum and a nature reserve on the man-made peninsula.
The project was put in jeopardy when the company failed to obtain European funding in 2012.
But Lafarge Tarmac has stressed that it has not abandoned the scheme and has vowed to continue look into ways to push ahead with the plans.
The company’s regeneration manager, Lloyd McInally said the project had been heavily impacted by the recession and admitted “not much has happened” since Lafarge obtained outline planning permission in 2009 to develop the whole cement works, including the quarry.
This permission included ‘in-principle’ approval for a new eco-friendly village alongside Larne Lough and a major cycling centre mainly in the quarry, but it did not involve Lafarge having to prepare detailed designs or layouts.
Mr McInally said: “One thing we have been working on is the detailed design of the cycling centre. Our plans, which we have submitted for detailed planning approval, show seven downhill trails and an extensive cross-country trail running around the edge of the quarry and then around the rest of the site. In total, over ten miles of trails are planned.
“We will of course be consulting with all stakeholders and will seek a meeting with the chief executive of the new Mid and East Antrim Council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in the near future.”
Extraction of limestone from the quarry, for use in the Magheramorne cement plant, ceased in 1980. Today, the quarry looks much the same as it did on its last day of operation some 35 years ago, with its high cliff faces and large spoil heaps containing surplus quarrying material.
“Before the cycling centre can be constructed, we need to reduce the height of some cliff faces and make the spoil heaps more stable,” Mr McInally explained.
“Now we know the detailed layout of the cycling centre, we can do this in a way that creates a new landform that is best suited to providing the bike trails and the large area that will be needed at the bottom of the runs for a finish arena and visitor facilities.
“The plans we have produced require over 800,000 cubic metres of spoil to be shifted, virtually all of which would be re-used within the site. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of more than 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools or about two-thirds of the internal volume of the new Wembley Stadium.”
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, who visited the quarry recently to see the latest plans, said construction of the cycling centre was likely to be dependent, at least in part, on public sector support.
And he added that while no grants are currently available for this kind of project, he remained hopeful that funding would be forthcoming.
The DUP man said: “By preparing detailed plans for the cycling centre and the restoration work that will be necessary beforehand, and by hopefully gaining detailed planning permission for these in the near future, there will be a ready-to-go scheme.
“This is always much more attractive to potential funders. It is to Lafarge Tarmac’s credit that they have put the time and money into preparing these plans in these circumstances.
“These have been difficult times for many major projects across Northern Ireland. If the money could be found to at least make a start on the cycling centre, it could act as a catalyst for the development of the rest of the old Magheramorne Works site.
“The opportunities here are enormous. It is estimated that the cycling centre alone would draw in 150,000 visitors each year once fully up-and-running, who would spend nearly £5 million locally.
“In the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, Magheramorne, because of its lime and then cement production, was well known across the island of Ireland. If the cycling centre and the eco-friendly village go ahead, Magheramorne will surely become equally well known in the 21st century,” Mr Wilson concluded.