Giant’s Causeway: Interpretative Centre

Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 23rd March 2011.

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Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 2:45 pm, 23rd March 2011

6. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for an update on plans to build a new interpretative centre at the Giant’s Causeway.            (AQO 1358/11)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The various work packages for the development of the new visitor facilities are well under way. The main contractor for the building commenced works in November 2010, and the project is on target for completion by the summer of 2012. Other work packages are also progressing, including several car park developments and the launch of a new park-and-ride facility in Bushmills.

The visitors’ centre is being advanced by a leading exhibition design company, and it will be an integral part of the world-class visitor experience at the Causeway. Detailed designs have been accepted, allowing time for procurement and installation in line with work streams. The existing visitor site remains accessible while the site understandably undergoes considerable structural and operational changes, and it is still very much part of the visitor experience. My Department and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board are working with the National Trust to plan and deliver an international-scale event worthy of celebrating the centre’s opening.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I join the chorus of congratulations to the Minister, particularly on ensuring that this project was delivered in my constituency, given the long history of the site’s development after the disastrous fire. I ask the Minister and her Department to continue to endeavour to ensure that having the Causeway as Northern Ireland’s premier tourist attraction benefits not only the local community but Northern Ireland in general and for that to be a priority for her Department as we get closer to the opening of the facility and when it is fully functional.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I thank the Member for his very kind comments. He is right, of course, that the Giant’s Causeway is the premier tourist facility in that it receives the largest number of visitors every year. That is the case despite the fact that visitor facilities have been below par until now. Only a couple of months ago, I visited the site to see the ongoing work. It is a hugely exciting development, and, as I said, the site has been kept open to visitors even during the works.

My great hope for the Giant’s Causeway visitors’ centre is that it will attract people and then point them in different directions to other events and locations right across Northern Ireland, including, obviously, the wider Causeway Coast and glens area, which is hugely beautiful in itself. There was an announcement in relation to Gobbins Path, and people from east Antrim will rejoice in the redevelopment of a very beautiful path that will attract visitors.

The Giant’s Causeway is part of the overall picture for the 2012-13 proposition. It is very much part of our tourism strategy, moving forward. I wish the Member and his North Antrim colleagues every success, and I hope that they will enjoy the new visitors’ centre very much.

Photo of Robert Coulter Robert Coulter UUP

In what is my final contribution in the House, I sincerely thank the Minister for the very kind attention that she has given to the needs and workers of North Antrim over quite a period. I have to declare an interest as an octogenarian. Within the plans for the visitors’ centre, what definite plans are in place to assist those who are not as mobile as young people in getting down to the stones and back up again?

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I join the Minister for Employment and Learning in congratulating the Member on his long period of service to North Antrim and to the House. I know that his presence will be missed on the Benches, and I wish him well.

The new visitors’ centre will be accessible to everyone. It will all be on one level. If the visitors’ centre turns out as per the plans, it will be provide an absolutely beautiful experience in itself. There will also be direct access down to the stones. I am sure that access will be made readily available to those who are not as mobile as they used to be.

Photo of Declan O'Loan Declan O'Loan Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 23rd March 2011

When we consider how testing an issue the interpretive centre at the Giant’s Causeway was for the Assembly four years ago, it is only right to congratulate the Minister on delivering that important project in conjunction with the key partners, the National Trust and Moyle District Council. What preparations are being made to use the new interpretive centre, as it will be, to enhance the offer at the Giant’s Causeway and to market it worldwide?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The Member knows — I should know better than most — that the Giant’s Causeway is the only UNESCO heritage site in Northern Ireland. Therefore, when the new visitors’ centre is in place, I believe that we will get global attention. The innovative design and construction of the building will, in itself, be a marketing tool. When people arrive at the visitors’ centre, it is my great hope that it will be used to point people all over Northern Ireland so that they can avail themselves of the absolutely marvellous experiences that we can offer. I have had conversations with the National Trust on that matter.

I believe that the visitors’ centre currently receives 400,000 visitors a year, although I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. It is our premier tourist attraction, and I believe that we can double the number of visitors to the centre, because we are going to make it more accessible to everyone, and there will be a better understanding of the stories that are there to be told. It will be an exciting attraction, and I hope that I will be available to attend the opening ceremony.