Gobbins ‘no joke’ for ratepayers

The Gobbins. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons. INLT-30-716-con
The Gobbins. Photo by Aaron McCracken/Harrisons. INLT-30-716-con

If Ballymena ratepayers thought they were paying out more than enough on debts associated with the failed ecos centre then they are in for a further shock.

It looks increasingly as if they have inherited another potential white elephant in the much heralded but problem plagued Gobbins project which comes under the umbrella of the new Mid & east Antrim Council.

And one Assemblyman has warned that ‘The Gobbins Cliff Path’ which was launched in a wave of feelgood factor publicity, risks becoming “the butt of jokes” due to frequent closures in its first year of operation.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council opened the £7.5 million attraction to fanfare last August, but was forced to close it after just five months when a landslip caused by high levels of rainfall caused damage to parts of the access path.

The path subsequently reopened over the 2016 May Day weekend, but closed again on June 20 for essential maintenance to prevent rock falls.

At the time, the council hoped that the attraction would reopen in two to three weeks, but it remains closed.

This means that the Gobbins cliff path has only been accessible to the public for six of the 11 months since it first opened.

Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said: “If rate payers are paying for this, someone needs to step in and say enough is enough. They need to tell us exactly what’s going on and when they think it’s going to reopen.”

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said he was “concerned” that the Gobbins remains closed during what should have been its first full summer season.

“It’s disappointing that it’s almost August and it hasn’t re-opened,” he said.

A council spokesman said there is “no firm date for re-opening The Gobbins as yet.”

When asked how much the Gobbins costs council to maintain each week it is closed, the spokesman replied: “The visitor centre is a multi-purpose building and the café, shop, community centre and exhibition area remain open, so are not being ‘maintained’. They are open as normal–only the tours are suspended. Guides are casual employees and therefore no ongoing cost is incurred on days when tours do not operate.”

A spokesperson from Rumour Mill PR, which the council hired for the Gobbins project, stated: “The Gobbins’ break-even period for revenue was for three years dependent on visitor numbers. However, as the project has changed since the original evaluation, it is no longer valid.”

The spokesperson said tours can still be booked in advance, with full refunds if the closure period is extended.