NEWCASTLE and possibly other venues in Down District may have an exciting bus tour lined up this summer if Down District Council accepts a proposal from tour company Belfast City Tours. Company director George Grimley made the presentation to the Cultural and Economic Development Committee explaining that although the preferred option was to run tours in a route around Newcastle, an already well-established tourist venue, that other options were also open for discussion.
The proposal by Mr Grimley hinged on Down Council supporting the funding of a parking area in Dundrum where the tours could operate from. In parking outside Newcastle, it was expected that this would ease traffic congestion especially in the busy summer months. In a quid pro quo arrangement, Belfast City Tours were offering the Council extensive advertising space on the buses, on literature and on the company website.
Mr Grimley explained, “We have no preferred route for this tour planned. Newcastle seemed a perfect option, but we can certainly look at other ideas that the Council may wish to consider. We would also like to extend a bus tour into the Mournes.”
There was considerable discussion among the committee on the proposal and it was met by a lukewarm response from UUP Councillor Dessie Patterson who said, Ulsterbus has been providing tours in the Mournes for a number of years,” and he explained that Ulsterbus had been running a smaller bus service for ramblers at no cost to the council which located them close to where they wanted to walk from.”
However, the committee were much in favour of the proposal and the Committee chairman SDLP Councillor Colin McGrath indicated that providing funding in the current economic climate is something the Council will increasingly have to examine. He said, “It is not a large sum of money that the company is seeking, but we will need to look at what funding is available.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Liam Johnston was also supportive of the project but questioned the location saying “why not Downpatrick?” He said, “We have St Patrick’s trail, the grave of Thomas Russell, and many other attractions in the immediate area. Newcastle itself is limited by having only two main roads in the town.” Councillor Mickey Coogan also supported the idea of a bus tour in the district enhancing the tourism product. He said, “This is a very good idea. It will benefit tourism around Newcastle. But we do need to seriously consider this proposal.”
SDLP Councillor Maria McCarthy also was in favour of the bus tour in principle and added that the St Patrick Trail should also be included in its intinary. She also agreed with Councillor Patterson that the operator should liaise closely with Ulsterbus in developing the bus tour to meet the needs of tourists and ramblers, noting Councillor Patterson’s comment that Belfast City Tours should approach Newry and Mourne District Council for funding support as much of the Mournes is in their council area.
The committee, who were generally supportive of the proposal, decided to set up a working group into further looking at the options available and the business case.