The Gobbins is an area of basalt sea cliffs, up to 60m in height, on the east coast of Northern Ireland.
The Gobbins path was originally designed by visionary engineer Berkeley Dean Wise and built in 1902, and in its heyday attracted more visitors than the Giant's Causeway but fell into disrepair following the Second World War and was closed to the public in 1954. It is being reinstated at a cost of £4.2m, with an associated visitor centre that is combined with a local community centre built at a cost of £2.2m. Larne Borough Council provided more than half of the funding for the scheme, the balance is grant funding from EU INTERREG IV and Ulster Garden Villages. RPS were appointed by Larne Borough Council to lead an Integrated Consulting Team to undertake the project management, design, planning application, procurement, environmental monitoring and contract administration of the two construction contracts for the reconstruction of the Gobbins Coastal Path and construction of the visitor centre.
The name ‘Gobbins’ comes from the Irish ‘An Gobain’, meaning ‘the points of rock’. Legends associated with the Gobbins include mythical figures such as Gobbin Saor, a terrifying giant who lived in the cliffs. The project will revive the original Gobbins cliff path, installed in 1902 by Berkeley Dean Wise, and consists of a series of spectacular bridges and gantries.
The concept design for the Gobbins project was completed by RPS' Mark McConnell and Sinead Henry which involved the restoration of a 750m long coastal path, including the provision of approx. 23 stainless steel structures incorporating bridges which range from 5m to 35m in span, hand railing and walkway structures inside a cave known as The Tunnel. The team sympathetically designed the iconic 17m Hoop Bridge at the Man‘O’War sea stack site and also the suspension bridge at Gordon's Leap to replicate the original 1902 Berkeley Dean Wise designs. During the design and construction stage RPS engineers utilised their Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to capture video and photography which enabled them to carry out cost effective site inspections.
The project is located within The Gobbins ASSI (Area of Special Scientific Interest) that is designated due to the maritime plant communities, the large seabird colonies and the unique geology found at the cliffs. Working within an ASSI- RPS Planning Director Raymond Holbeach and his team completed detailed ecological surveys and liaised closely with NIEA to ensure the proposed works did not impact on the qualifying features of the Gobbins ASSI. Mitigation measures were agreed with NIEA in advance of the submission of the planning application. Such measures included limited works along the path between March-August to avoid any impact on the breeding seabird colony (including kittiwakes and razorbills of which 1.6% and 1.1% of the Ireland population are found at the Gobbins Cliffs), no netting of the cliffs, and controlled scaling of the cliff face with an ornithologist present.
One of the key challenges was access explains Project Manager, Morgan Haylett– “The coastal path is located in a remote coastal environment, at the base of 60m high cliffs. The shallow water depths and exposed location precluded the use of marine plant for the project. Therefore the design of the structures and handrailing facilitates segmental/lightweight construction where possible and minimises the number of heavy lifts required over the cliff edge”.
The Gobbins Coastal path is one of two RPS projects that have been shortlisted for the UK wide British Construction Industry Award, Civil Engineering Project of the Year – the awards are to be held in London this coming October.
Tourism NI's Kathleen McBride said: “It showcases the shoreline, it showcases the people of Northern Ireland and it is just a great facility and a great new attraction to have, it complements what we already have on the Causeway Coastal route. We have the Giants Causeway, we have Carrick-a-rede, we have the shore road and the coastal road”.
“This is a fantastic facility in Islandmagee and a fantastic attraction.”.
The Gobbins Coastal Path is scheduled for completion in summer 2015.