Northern Ireland

Alex Attwood unhappy at charge to access Titanic dock

Environment Minister Alex Attwood
Image caption Mr Attwood said the dock is the "emotional heart" of the Titanic experience

The Environment Minister Alex Attwood has expressed his unhappiness with the erection of fencing around the Thompson dock where the Titanic was fitted out before her fateful voyage.

NI Science Park, which owns the Belfast dock, had the fencing put up recently.

Mr Attwood thinks it is unfair that tourists have to pay to take a tour of the pump house in order to get up close to the dock and take a look inside.

He wants access to be free after his department provided £1.5m.

"I have made it personally clear to the chief executive of the Science Park, Frank Hewitt, my dissatisfaction with the access arrangements to view the dock and the charging regime," he said.

"I raised the matter with the Science Park, asked them to review their approach, suggested how they could and believe they must. My meeting was held in late April and I have been hoping the Science Park would have responded before now.

"As Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreck of the Titanic said to me when he attended Titanic Memorial events earlier this year, the dock is the emotional heart of the titanic experience. I agree."

Mr Attwood described his visit to the dock floor in June as a "powerful experience".

He said he had also repeated his view to Science Park management during that visit.

Reconsider

"I do not believe that after the construction of the new dock gate and the public expenditure involved that the approach of the Science Park is the right one. I referred to this at a recent executive meeting," he said.

"Given the central importance of the dock to the Titanic, Belfast and Northern experience, there is a question about the best management structure for the dock.

"Meanwhile the Science Park should reassess their approach and government should ensure that this asset becomes much more accessible."

Mr Attwood said he had also written to the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster

In a statement, chairman of the Northern Ireland Science Park Foundation, Frank Hewitt, said: "This issue is currently the subject of communication between ministers and it would not be appropriate for the Northern Ireland Science Park to comment in detail at this time.

"However, we can say that, as agreed with minister Attwood, the Northern Ireland Science Park will carry out a review of its operation of the Titanic's Dock and Pump- House in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders.

Obligations

"The Northern Ireland Science Park is totally committed to the sustainability of this 100-year-old scheduled monument and listed building with the aim of enhancing the Titanic tourism offering and of providing an informative, rewarding and 'value for money' experience for visitors .

"We are, of-course, also obliged to ensure the safety of all visitors, and to take appropriate steps to do so"

In March, Mr Attwood announced that his department was providing £1.5m for preservation work on the Thompson Graving dock.

The 880ft (268m) long dock was originally opened in 1911.

The funding is the largest single investment ever made by the Department of the Environment in support of an historic monument.

The work will involve the construction of a new structure outside the existing 150ft (46m) wide steel dock gate in order to safeguard the dock from flooding.

The dock is currently maintained by the Northern Ireland Science Park in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

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