‘Worst summer’ takes a toll at Carnfunnock

Carnfunnock Country Park.

Carnfunnock Country Park.

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PARKING charges will be held at 2012 prices in a bid to encourage more people to visit Carnfunnock Country Park this year.

Like most other outdoor attractions in Northern Ireland, the Larne Borough Council facility fell foul of what officials called the wettest summer in a century. With added pressure on consumer spending, the Olympics and Paralympics on TV and disastrous weather on bank holidays, the number of visitors was down by 21,425 on the previous year and there was a 17 per cent reduction in turnover.

Everything seemed to conspire against the park, with the front field being unusable at Easter, with the result that there was a 64 per cent decline in takings and 2,860 fewer cars through the park that month.

The usually very popular caravan park sustained a 28 per cent hit in income, although the loss was offset by a healthy 95 per cent peak-time occupancy rate in the camping area.

Income from activity centre operations fell by 20 per cent and by 10 per cent at the visitor centre.

Leisure committee members examining the figures and faced with imposing fee increases at least in line with inflation at 2.4 per cent, could hope that things can only get better, but director of development Linda McCullough advised: “The weather has an important role to play in both visitor numbers and subsequently income, so it can be very unpredictable to budget or forecast.”

Tourism manager Aynsley McWilliams assured councillors that park staff worked “diligently”, adding that the weather and current economic climate were outside their control. She said franchisees at Carnfunnock also had a poor season, indicating that there would be meetings with them before the start of the new season.

Cllr Bobby McKee, who said he had always been opposed to charging for parking, suggested that if visitors could not be offered good weather they must be offered some other incentive.

The decision to maintain parking charges is to be offset by increases elsewhere: seasonal passes, barbecue facilities, education centre activities and caravan park fees all go up by five per cent.

However, there will be no change to Carnfunnock golf course green fees, due to a continuing decline in usage. The price is said to be “reflective of the top end of the nine-hole golf market”. Cllr Martin Wilson suggested asking if the driving range franchisee might be interested in the course.