Council shapes up for Global Geopark bid

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

NEWRY, Mourne and Down District Council is to co-ordinate a strategy to apply for UNESCO Global Geopark status.

At this month's meeting of the Enterprise, Recreation and Tourism (ERT) meeting, in Newry, members hailed the recommendation to proceed with the application as a major boost to the local authority's long-term tourism plans.

ERT director Marie Ward stressed to councillors the importance of a timeline for the application and that the local communities in the particular areas were the key to helping move it forward.

Members were informed that the timeline for the project was "constrained" by the UNESCO Global Geopark application process. It was highlighted that there were at present two applications submitted from the UK, which was the maximum at any one given time.

The latest projected date that UNESCO will be clear of the current process will be in the autumn of 2019.

Councillors learned that a budget was required to "adequately establish the potential Geopark" and that its size "will greatly affect" key objectives.

The meeting also heard that an application made for a Global Geopark submitted to UNESCO in 2015 for the Mourne, Cooley and Gullion area was "somewhat premature" and that "appropriate consideration was not given to boundaries" and subsequently had to be withdrawn.

The proposed new application will now include "a revised Geopark boundary" with the establishment of a Geopark steering group moving the project forward. Included in the steering group will be, but not exclusively, the council, Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, DAERA (Forest Service), Mourne Heritage Trust, Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and representatives of the tourism, education, research and community sectors.

Ms Ward explained that the area would be based on public sites and not private land, adding that there would be media briefings and a communications strategy.

UUP Councillor Glyn Hanna supported the recommendation and proposed that they moved the project forward while Independent member Jarlath Tinnelly said he "absolutely" agreed and that it could be "a game changer and fits in very well with our tourism strategy."

The SDLP's Declan McAteer recalled that the Louth, Cooely area were the council's former partners and wondered what was the position now with them? He said a lot of work had been done jointly on the project.

Ms Ward said that they would utitilise any relevant work and that the council officers were "very keen" to move forward with the project and added that they were "recommending strongly to proceed on our own basis initially and make the application ourselves."

Sinn Fein Councillor Willie Clarke said it had been "unfortunate" that Louth County Council did not continue with their interest. It appeared that the interest in Louth was not there but that it was "a great opportunity for our area."

Mr Clarke said a successful application would be "a massive brand for our tourism strategy" and he believed the proposal was "an excellent initiative" and welcomed the fact that there would be no restrictions on land use, like farm activity.

“This could bring a lot of people to our area," declared Mr Clarke.

He said they should not be rushing things as they had "a good amount of time" on their side.


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