£1.5m Gobbins shortfall ‘unforeseeable’

An artist's impression of what the restored Gobbins Cliff Path will look like when the project is completed. INLT 23-676-CON
An artist's impression of what the restored Gobbins Cliff Path will look like when the project is completed. INLT 23-676-CON
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Larne Council may have to find an extra £1.5m to cover a potential shortfall in funding for the highly-anticipated Gobbins project, it has emerged.

With construction on the long-awaited cliff path at Islandmagee expected to commence this summer, a geological survey has been carried out to examine the stability of the rock face.

And the survey highlighted several areas of concern relating to rock stability along the route, which will need to be addressed before the path can safely be opened to the public.

Geologists have recommended that a number of additional works be carried out, including blasting at various locations.

This unforeseen work will push the overall cost of the project much higher than initially expected.

The original funding package for the scheme comprised a £5m grant from the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), £2m from Larne Council and £200,000 from Ulster Garden Villages.

With a further £1.5 m now required to complete the additional works, the worst case scenario from the perspective of local ratepayers is that the council will have to stump up the extra money.

This would be achieved by reallocating money from its existing capital works programme, meaning that a number of other projects – such as the purchase of a new depot facility – will have to be put on the back burner.

However, the council’s chief executive, Geraldine McGahey has given assurance that the council will only be making the funds available as “a safety net”, as it is hoped that SEUPB will be in a position to make up the shortfall.

She added that there may be a possibility that the total potential shortfall will be reduced once tenders have been assessed and the actual costs are known.

Cllr Martin Wilson expressed concerns that by reallocating money from the capital works programme, it may be seen that the Gobbins project had been “over-ambitious” and that other planned schemes would suffer as a result.

The minutes state: “He wondered how it could be justified that the Gobbins proceed at the detriment of other projects, and if soft options were being selected to be postponed to avoid criticism. He feared the council had over-stretched itself with the Gobbins.”

Mrs McGahey said she did not think the council had been over-ambitious, and highlighted that the extra funds were required “because of unforeseen and unforeseeable work, not because of mismanagement”.