Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Kilbroney Park Cafe closure threat lifted as privatisation fears persist

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have been forced to refute claims that the much-loved Kilbroney Park Cafe in Rostrevor will close after Christmas while the lease is put out to tender.

Speculation mounted about the closure of the popular cafe, which is set in the picturesque surroundings of The Meadow in Kilbroney Park, after a post appeared on the cafe’s Facebook page last Thursday claiming that it would close on December 30th at the request of the council who had asked the current tenants to “vacate the premises.”

The news was met with shock and sadness, with patrons of the cafe, expressing their resounding support for the retainment of the restaurant, which is a favourite haunt for mountain bike lovers across Northern Ireland.

The message claimed that as a result of the council’s demand, the award winning cafe would cease trading after 13 years in the scenic venue, with the tenants said to be “shocked and saddened.”

“We, along with our diligent staff, have worked tirelessly to provide a service which added to the ambience of a visitor’s experience of Kilbroney Park,” the post continued.

“We have won Mountain Bike Cafe Of The Year for three consecutive years, from 2013 to 2016, of which we are very proud.

“Our many regular customers are testimony to the service we endeavoured to provide.”

Further clarification was provided by the leaseholder in an additional post explaining that their current contract with the council to provide the cafe service had expired, as it had on numerous occasions during the tenancy, but trade had continued with no break in service.  The spokesperson claimed that council officials had told them to vacate the premises even though they were being given the opportunity to re-tender for the business.

“As a result we have to cease trading, pay off our fantastic staff and remove all our equipment from the building on the hope that sometime in the near future we may successfully regain the contract and begin trading again,” claimed Kilbroney Cafe management, adding that they failed to understand the need to close under such circumstances.

The claims were later refuted by the Council, with a Newry Mourne and Down District Council spokesperson confirming to The Examiner on Friday, that, contrary to speculation, “the Council is not closing the facilities at Kilbroney Forest Park Cafe.”

“The current cafe operator’s licence has expired and Council is working with them to address the legal matters arising,” said the spokesperson, adding that any further comment on the discussions “would be inappropriate.”

Rostrevor Councillor Jarlath Tinnelly also took to social media on Friday to clear up any confusion regarding the continuation of business at the Kilbroney Cafe. Mr Tinnelly said that he was in no doubt the cafe had been “built into a thriving successful business over the years through the hard work and endeavour of the sisters that run it.”  The Councillor explained that, as the current lease has now expired, council are legally obliged to follow proper procedures to get a new lease in place.  He revealed that, having spoken to all concerned parties on Thursday and Friday he was “given an assurance that the existing business was welcome to continue operating while this process is underway”, and he added that he had relayed the good news to Cafe management who were “delighted that the threat of imminent closure has now been lifted.”

The cafe debacle comes after the Independent Councillor voiced his fears at last Monday’s Council Meeting that a Council decision to press ahead with a study into the management and operation of its caravan and camping sites could lead to the privatisation of the campsite management of Kilbroney Park.

Highlighting his concerns in his Facebook post on Friday, Mr Tinnelly said he was “totally opposed to any move that potentially would see the Caravan site in Kilbroney Park taken over by a private operator, as I believe this would be the start of a slippery slope to full privatisation of the management of the park itself.”

“This park was secured for the people of our village and district after a group of locals saved it from becoming another housing development 40 years ago and I do not intend to betray the efforts of those locals, whose passion and love for the park has only increased in the four decades since and I don’t think even they could have foreseen the stunning success story that it has become.”

The Councillor repeated his stance that the Caravan Park in Kilbroney “has been expertly run and managed by the council for years and that is how it must continue.

“When this report comes back to council, a decision will have to be made and I am asking everyone to contact their local Councillor to remind them that this is the ‘People’s Park’ , open, free and accessible to all and that is how it should remain.”