The £3.6 million contract for the long-awaited reconstruction of the Gobbins cliff path has been awarded by Larne Borough Council this week.
Mallusk-based civil engineering firm McLaughlin and Harvey Ltd scooped the multi-million pound deal to deliver what is expected to be the jewel in the local authority’s crown and one of Northern Ireland’s premier tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, Enniskillen-based construction company Tracey Brothers Ltd has won the £1.99 million contract to supply the project’s new visitor centre/commuinity centre, which is expected to be completed by July.
Chief executive of Larne Council, Geraldine McGahey said: “Both contracts will provide employment opportunities during the construction period and will be targeted at those currently out of work, as well as providing apprenticeships for the unemployed and engineering students.”
McLaughlin and Harvey was one of five firms to submit a tender for the contract.
The restoration scheme will see the reconstruction of the historic half-mile path, which has been closed for almost half a century.
The path will feature 15 bridges, ranging from five metres to 32 metres long, a 22 metre long tunnel and a cave.
Other aspects of the project include the creation of a new cliff-top path, and a new stainless steel staircase to link the two paths together.
A further tender process is now underway for the staircase scheme, funded by the North East Rural Development programme. The council will also be seeking applicants for the construction of the cliff top path – funded by the NI Tourist Board – and a minibus service to take tourists from the visitors centre to the path.
It is hoped that the first visitors will set foot on the new path in August.
Mrs McGahey added: “Once the project is up and running, it has the potential to employ about 16 people as guides, along with a further compliment of staff to run the visitor centre.
“The new visitor facility will feature a cafe, exhibition space, briefing rooms, a tourist information desk and a shop selling local craft.”
The Gobbins project is being funded by Larne Council in conjunction with the Special European Programmes Body (administered by the North East partnership) and Ulster Garden Villages.
The council is also working in partnership with the National Trust and local land owners at the site in planning the project.
The Gobbins cliff path was built by civil engineer Berkeley Deane Wise in 1902, and featured staircases along the cliffs, dramatic tubular and suspension bridges and caves and tunnels carved through the rock.
In its heyday it was one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island of Ireland and attracted more visitors than the Giants Causeway. It eventually fell into disrepair and was closed about 60 years ago.