A new multi-million pound Planetarium and Observatory could be built in Armagh as part of a major tourism drive, Armagh I can reveal.
A replacement for the current two facilities has been considered as part of future development ideas for the city.
Armagh I understands that the vision for a new state-of-the-art attraction and research venue has been in the pipeline for a number of years now.
And it has been recommended it be “actively pursued”.
A five-year tourism plan has highlighted the future potential for both the Planetarium and Observatory.
A report to council highlights Armagh Observatory as “the oldest scientific institution in Northern Ireland and the longest continuously operating astronomical research institute in the UK and Ireland”.
It adds: “The cultural and heritage importance of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is significant. It was founded in the late 18th Century, through the 1791 Act, passed by the Irish Parliament for ‘settling and preserving a Public Observatory and Museum in the City of Armagh for ever’.
“The addition of the Planetarium on the same site in 1968 has greatly enhanced the organisation’s public face and outreach activities. The fact that this is an active Observatory with a vibrant research, education and public outreach programme strengthens its status nationally and internationally.
“The Observatory’s meteorological records provide the longest daily climate series from a single site in the UK and Ireland, one of the longest such records in the world.”
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is setting its goal of making the borough a must-visit destination.
And it is the city which will be placed in the spotlight as the centrepiece.
It was last January that the Permanent Secretary of the former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure attended a management board meeting of the Observatory/Planetarium and set out central government’s ‘early thinking’ on a possible range of support and development initiatives over a five to 10-year period.
The Permanent Secretary said that the Department appreciated that AOP was “an excellent resource for Armagh and Ireland” and felt that “significant extra funds should be invested to develop it further as a scientific and tourism facility”. DCAL was, he said “very supportive”.
Both now fall under the remit of the Department for Communities.
But it and council recognise its potential and need to develop it.
A number of ideas have been suggested but most centre around a ‘new build’ at the College Hill site.
The consultants, who have spent over a year drafting the tourism plan, have recommended: “Proposals for the development of a new building on this site centre around innovation and should actively be supported and pursued.”
The Department of Communities would lead the initiative.
But it would – when agreed and carried forward – represent one more feather in the cap of the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough and is seen as a key element of a new five-year tourism strategy and action plan.
It would also sit well and help cement Armagh’s reputation as a seat of learning, with plans set to come to fruition of a new multi-million pound Southern Regional College and a longer-term goal of bringing university status to the city.