I am making a call for a comprehensive safety review of the protective sea wall between Warrenpoint and Rostrevor after it partly collapsed following a combination of battering by heavy waves and storm flooding. The adverse the knock-on impact on the network of rural back roads in the area as a result of the sea wall collapse would has had serious consequences for the local community. They are already in a poor state of repair in that they are riddled with pot holes. They are dangerous as a result of the lack of proper maintenance programmes being implemented.
The area serviced by the A2 road has to cope with tens of thousands of vehicle journeys, especially during the summer tourism season. My fear, and I have made this point on a number of occasions, is that the collapse of the wall is an indication of something much more serious in terms of the entire road system.
The Minister cannot abdicate responsibility on this matter. During last year’s winter storms there was also a partial collapse of the sea wall closer to Rostrevor. For over a year the Minister and his staff were well aware that we had a potential disaster staring us in the face. At the time it was flagged up to the Minister that it was critical that all possible measures had to be implemented to protect what is a vital link in the tourism chain of South Down.
Instead we got nothing more than a few potholes being filled in and vague promises that a review would be carried out. South Down is one of the main revenue generators for Northern Ireland PLC in the context of inward tourism footfall. It appears that when it comes down to actually investing finance in supporting local communities and businesses other areas of Northern Ireland continue to receive preferential treatment. It is another example of vested political interests in other parts of the North being able to wield undue economic influence on issues that should be treated simply on their merits.
The whole episode has highlighted the opportunity to implement a radical tourism and leisure linked development project in the area. As the Chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee I want to explore, along with my committee colleagues, how this could be achieved.
Dumping boulders and rocks along the shoreline is ultimately only going to be a short-term fix. It can never be a permanent solution. But given the necessary backing a strategic plan built around a cocktail of various funding streams can transform the coastal route into a major visitor attraction.
I am calling for vital sea defences to be built as part of a wider recreational facility along the same lines as the hugely successful Newcastle promenade development. Newcastle has enjoyed a 50 per cent increase in tourism footfall. It has come as a result of a defence system being incorporated as a leisure resource.
The reality is that the road link between Rostrevor and Warrenpoint offers the prospect of being redeveloped as a 21 century leisure and recreational walkway. Given its superb setting there is no reason why it could not be transformed into a world status facility.
Of course there would be huge costs involved in the type of scheme I see as being the eventual solution to a complex problem. But if we are to exploit the enormous tourism potential on our doorstep we have to make sure that we have the necessary infrastructure in place.