Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council is poised to take over the management of Hillsborough Forest as part of a £4million project to develop the 200-acre site into a “first class, innovative, natural recreational area” for visitors and residents.
The decision that the local authority should take over management responsibilities from the Forest Service was made by unanimous cross-party agreement at full council earlier this year.
“The newly developed family attraction will be enjoyed by people of all ages and will create health opportunities by improving access to physical recreation in the forest,” a council spokesperson explained.
“Phase one, involving a spend of £1.5million, is due to begin before the end of April 2019. It will include an accessible woodland play area for children of all abilities, a new picnic area, improved pathways, an upgraded car park with 70 additional spaces and new seating around the lake. Future phases are still in development and consultations will take place at all relevant stages.”
The investment, which is funded by the council, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Public Health Agency and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, forms part of the Hillsborough Tourism Masterplan, which supports the development of Hillsborough as a key visitor destination.
The Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh, Cllr Uel Mackin, said: “We’re delighted to be adding Hillsborough Forest to our portfolio of parks and open spaces. This is an exciting opportunity to build on the charm and appeal of this historic village. We’re committed to ensuring that the area is attractive to the local community and visitors alike.”
Alderman William Leathem, chair of the council’s Development Committee, said: “This project will benefit local businesses and boost the Hillsborough economy by increasing the number of visitors to the village. By investing in this project, we’re demonstrating our commitment to preserving the long-term future of the area and to attracting visitors from across the globe to this outstanding location.”
Alderman Jim Dillon MBE JP, chair of the council’s Capital Projects Committee, commented: “In making best use of the area and creating access to the entire forest, we will create a better visitor experience at this already popular family attraction.”
Alderman Paul Porter, chair of the council’s Leisure & Community Development Committee, added: “By improving walking trails and creating other activity areas in the forest, the project will promote healthy lifestyles and reduce social isolation. Families and individuals of all ages will have new and unique outdoor spaces to enjoy together.”
Phase one of the project is scheduled to be completed by winter 2019, according to the council.
The local authority said every effort will be taken to ensure that disruption to visitors and residents is minimised.
Hillsborough Forest car park will be restricted until July 6, however additional parking will be available during the construction period.