Why open Gobbins before work is finished?

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

A councillor has criticised the “incomplete” public opening of The Gobbins on July 9, which he says will impact upon the facility’s future.

Mid and East Antrim representative Stephen Nicholl slammed the local authority’s decision to open the scheme before the path is complete and without the final suspension bridge in place. He made his forthright comments at a meeting of the economic growth and development committee on June 15.

A report presented to the committee revealed that while the Gobbins visitor centre will be open and complete, the path will only be “90 per cent” finished.

The final suspension bridge will not be in place by the public opening date and so the report proposes that tours be terminated prior to this point.

Additionally, it states that the cliff-top path and associated interpretation points will not be completed, but that this will not affect the opening of the cliff =-face path.

The estimated time for completion for this phase remains mid-August 2015.

The viewing platform will be complete by July 9.

Councillor Nicholl said the opening date had been agreed by council based on the previous month’s report, which he described as “very different” to this one. He added: “The report given was that construction work and the bridges would be done and we are not meeting any of our targets.

“The approval of the opening was based on last month’s report and the things in this report are very different.

“I have concerns about opening an incomplete facility on July 9 and the impact it will have on the long-term future of the facility.

“The top path will not be ready and I would have concerns about opening the facility with things not finished.”

Chief executive Anne Donaghy said the date on the contract had been agreed by Larne Borough Council as the end of June and that Mid and East Antrim Council was “working to that” but that the facility would not be completed by that date due to “work issues”.

She continued: “Subject to contracts and issues with a bridge, we have negotiated it for July 9, it’s only five per cent of the work and I don’t see that as an issue in stopping the opening.”

Mrs Donaghy said that the issue would be discussed further “in committee,” from which the Press were excluded.

The council is also seeking to spend an additional £40,000 on the project, £15,000 of which will be used to fund kitchen equipment at the visitor centre.

The remaining £25,000 will be used to purchase additional lighting equipment and a specialised water pump to keep the tunnel section dry. The report proposes to fund these expenses from the underspend within the salaries and wages budget due to the delayed opening. A business case is being prepared by the senior management team.

The report also reveals that a Gobbins website is in construction and is to be complete by the end of June. The website will contain sections detailing the history of the site, its flora and fauna, geology, travel information and other attractions within the area.

A ticket system is in place and requires testing with the website platform to ensure that visitors will be able to purchase tickets online.

The report also reveals that a local business has expressed a firm interest in offering the catering service at the visitor centre and is in negotiation with Council.

Regarding transport, three tenders have been received and are currently being assessed with a view to being in operation by the end of June.

The report states that a PR company is preparing a communications plan for the public opening on July 9 and the “ongoing promotion of the attraction for Year 1 of operations, focusing on social media, PR opportunities and trade engagement”.

Additionally, the report reveals it will not be possible for those with mobility issues to walk The Gobbins Path. It adds that council officers have received an offer of sponsorship from a technology company to provide recorded footage of the attraction, free of charge to council, to be shown within the visitor centre. Officers are currently considering the procurement implications.

Meanwhile, recruitment for reception and caretaking positions within the visitor centre is underway.

Twenty potential tour guides have been shortlisted and following an interview process, 12 successful applicants will begin a bespoke training course on June 22. Trial guided tours are scheduled for July 5, 6 and 7.

An official opening date for the The Gobbins will be confirmed later in the summer.