A successful multi-million funding bid will help make Royal Hillsborough a ‘world-class heritage attraction’ according to the local council.

Funding of £20 million has now received final approval to develop Royal Hillsborough through the Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) programme of investment.

‘City deals’ are bespoke packages of funding and decision-making powers negotiated between central government and local authorities. The Belfast Region City Deal was the first City Deal to be signed for Northern Ireland in December 2021. It spans six local authority areas in Northern Ireland and represents a joint co-funding package worth more than £850 million.

The estimated cost of the landmark ‘Destination Royal Hillsborough’ project is £25.975 million. The aim is to create a ‘whole village heritage tourism experience’ and help drive forward Tourism NI’s goal of encouraging more ‘out of state’ visitors to Northern Ireland.   Work is due to begin in January 2024, with a planned completion date of September 2027.

In addition to the £20 million from BRCD, additional investment will be provided by the other two partners in the project - Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, contributing £4.25 million and Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), providing £1.725 million.

The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, Councillor Scott Carson said: “Destination Royal Hillsborough will include a major public realm scheme to improve connections and access to the castle, forest and fort. Additional parking infrastructure will also be developed to accommodate increased visitor numbers and traffic.

“Other aspects of the project include plans to transform the courthouse into a heritage and conference centre and the fort into a landmark arts and events venue. There are plans in place for a social enterprise café to cater for visitors to Hillsborough Forest.”

This work will build on Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s recent investment of £1.6 million to develop the car park, play park, public amenity facilities and Digital Sculpture Trail in Hillsborough Forest. Three new Permanent Orienteering Courses (POC) have helped make the forest more accessible – allowing everyone to get active while enjoying the beautiful views and open spaces.

Since Hillsborough achieved Royal status in October 2021, 10 businesses have either opened their doors to the public or expanded – and there are more new investments pending. As well as boutique guest accommodation with 12 suites, there is also a quality offering of eateries, bakeries, coffee shops and other retail outlets throughout the village.  

Alderman Allan Ewart MBE, the council’s Development Committee Chairman said: “Engagement with the local business, voluntary and residential community has contributed significantly to the success of this bid. The needs of the residents are important to us. 

“By continuing to work in partnership we will help ensure a safer village for you. We also want to stimulate opportunities for private investment in Royal Hillsborough as the village continues to grow in all business sectors. Royal Hillsborough continues on a fantastic journey and is fast becoming a jewel in the crown for Northern Ireland tourism.”

Laura McCorry, Head of Hillsborough Castle & Gardens added: “Historic Royal Palaces has already shown belief and commitment in the tourism potential of Destination Royal Hillsborough with our initial investment of £25 million in the castle and garden estate. We now hope to build on this and, working alongside our partners in the council, make the picturesque village of Royal Hillsborough a powerful cultural heritage destination that will drive forward tourism in Northern Ireland and be a place of inspiration and learning for all.”

Welcoming the funding approval, David Roberts, Director of Strategic Development at Tourism NI said: “This is an important milestone for the Destination Royal Hillsborough project. It enables Council and Historic Royal Palaces to move the ambitious project to the next phase of delivery. We will continue to work closely with partners to ensure that the village achieves its full potential as a visitor destination”.