Work on new multi-million pound visitor facilities at Hillsborough Castle could get under way within the next few months, it has been confirmed.
Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) is keen to push ahead with the ambitious project after its planning application was approved by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s Planning Committee this week.
HRP is planning to invest more than £16m in the site, creating new visitor facilities including a welcome centre, Clore Learning Centre, car park, catering and retail space.
“The project will transform the visitor experience at the site, opening up Hillsborough Castle all year round for visitors to enjoy. The State Rooms will be newly presented and interpreted and the castle’s gardens will be carefully restored,” a spokesperson for HRP said.
“The new Clore Learning Centre will host activities for schools, families, youth and community groups, as well as talks and workshops for adults. Skills development, training and volunteering opportunities will also be created for the local community.”
The independent charity, which acquired Hillsborough Castle in April 2014, has confirmed that major works are expected to begin on site in April or May.
HRP hopes the project, which is being financed by the charity with support from a number of generous benefactors including the Heritage Lottery Fund, will be completed by summer 2019. And it says the new developments at the historic property could attract around 200,000 visitors to the castle annually.
At their meeting on Monday, January 9, members of the council’s Planning Committee voted unanimously to approve the HRP application.
Commenting on the approval decision, committee chairman Councillor Alexander Redpath commented: “This is one of the most exciting applications that has ever come before the planning committee. The development of Hillsborough Castle as one of Northern Ireland’s foremost visitor attractions will put Lisburn and Castlereagh firmly on the map for tourists.
“The potential economic benefits of this application cannot be overstated. As well as directly supporting hundreds of jobs we expect significant spin-offs as businesses relocate to Hillsborough to take advantage of the increase in tourism.”
Stressing that the council is “looking forward to a productive partnership with HRP moving forward”, the UUP representative added: “I believe that significant efforts have been made by HRP to engage with the local community and to mitigate the impact on local people of this major tourist attraction on their doorstep. A major investment is being made in a new car park to facilitate visitor traffic directly from the A1 to minimise extra traffic in the village.”
Welcoming the committee’s decision, Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler commented: “This latest initiative provides the foundation for additional jobs for Hillsborough both in the castle itself and with traders in the village who benefit from the increase in footfall.
“There is also a significant opportunity to train local people for these new roles in partnership with local schools and South Eastern Regional College, and I thoroughly welcome the prospect.
“If handled correctly we have the opportunity to transform the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of local families through the creation of additional high quality employment.”