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Hillsborough Tourism Masterplan - Transforming Hillsborough Forest

Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council have signed a Lease and Licence to undertake the responsibility for tourism and recreation developments in parts of Hillsborough Forest.  The majority of the forest will remain under the management of the Forest Service, with the Council taking responsibility for tourism and recreation developments only.

The Council plan to develop the forest into a first class, innovative and natural recreational area for residents and visitors.  The newly developed family attraction will be enjoyed by people of all ages and will create health opportunities for local residents and visitors by improving access to physical recreation within the forest.

The project is being delivered by the Council in partnership with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the Public Health Agency and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.  It forms part of the Council’s overall Hillsborough Tourism Masterplan and emerging City Deal Programme, which supports the development of Hillsborough as a key visitor destination.

Phase one of the project, which is nearing completion, involves spend by the Council of approximately £1.5 million, with 66% of this being funded by a grant from DAERA.  This first phase has included the upgrading of the infrastructure works to include sympathetic improvements to existing forest paths, an upgraded car park which now has 145 parking bays (doubled in size from the original car park), a new picnic area, new bridges, new seating and viewing decks around the lake, new signage and interpretive panels and a new woodland play area for children of all abilities along with public toilets. 

The next phase of the project will be happening over the next 15 months and entails the installation of a Digital Sculpture Trail.  The Trail will consist of 10 sculptures which will include a new cutting-edge interactive digital element using immersive technologies to enhance the visitor experience and to engage users on the trail.  The Digital Sculpture Trail will showcase and promote the distinct agricultural, cultural, history, heritage, natural and environmental attributes of Hillsborough Village, the forest and the wider area.  


  • 1. How long will the work take?

    Phase 1 infrastructure works are near complete at Hillsborough Forest with only the addition of a permanent amenity and toilet block to be installed at the woodland themed play park. Due to delays associated with COVID-19, this new amenity block will not be installed and completed until end of November 2020. However, the council did agree to temporarily open the Hillsborough Forest Play Park from 17 July – 30 September with temporary toilets.

    The infrastructure works include improved trails, new pedestrian bridges, new interpretive signage, increased car park, new viewing platforms around the lake and a woodland themed play park. Funding for the works came from both council and DAERA (TRPSI), with a number of future concepts being considered for possible developments at the forest.

  • 2. Why were the people in the village not consulted about this?

    The council started consultation activity on the Hillsborough Forest development in 2016. This included:

    • 2,500 leaflets delivered to BT26 residents;
    • Further leaflets distributed to all retail shops in Hillsborough;
    • An article published in the Ulster Star in June 2016;
    • A public display of proposed plans in Hillsborough Courthouse from 4 June to 2 July 2016;
    • Public engagement events in Hillsborough Forest on Thursday 23 June and Saturday 25 June 2016;
    • A public display of proposed plans in Lagan Valley Island from 5 to 11 July 2016;
    • Questionnaires distributed at all events and made available during public displays;
    • Promotion of this consultation activity posted on all council social media platforms.


    The results showed very strong support for upgrading the existing footpaths, strong support for increased car parking and very strong support for general recreation activities - including a children’s play area.  These results were published in a consultation summary document and were used to develop plans for phase 1 as detailed above. The first design concept of phase 1 was publicised on the council website and social media sites in February 2017, and council agreed the outline business case in summer 2017.

  • 3. What about the natural habitat of the Forest?

    We’re working with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Woodland Trust, DAERA Forest Service and Dfl Rivers to protect wildlife within the forest. We’ve completed an Arboricultural Survey, a Bat Roost Potential Survey and a Flood Risk Assessment and complied with all statutory regulations in order to protect the forest’s natural habitats.

  • 4. Will there be a mountain bike trail in the forest?

    There are no plans to incorporate a mountain bike trail in the forest.  The compactness and the terrain of the forest does not lend itself well to this type of activity.  Adult bikes are not permitted in the forest and this will remain the case for now.

  • 5. Will the wicket gate on the Ballynahinch Road be re-opened?

    Lisburn Castlereagh City Council recently signed a lease agreement with Forest Service for the area around the lake.  The rest of the forest remains under the management and control of Forest Service albeit that the Council can use this area for events with prior permission.

    The boundary wall on the Ballynahinch Road and the two access gates remain within the remit of Forest Service.  The Council have received the following statement from the Forest Service in relation to this gate:-

    “The gate opposite Governor’s Gate on the Ballynahinch road has been secured by Forest Service as it no longer closes properly and poses a safety risk.

    An alternative pedestrian access is available approximately 400 metres along the Ballynahinch Road.  This access has the additional benefits of there being a surfaced public footpath on both sides of the road with street lighting and is located approx. 500 metres inside the speed restricted zone with clear visibility for anyone who wishes to cross the road.  The alternative pedestrian access has been in place for a number of years and has become extremely popular as a safer access point to the forest and we encourage visitors on foot to use this entrance. 


    The provision of a replacement pedestrian gate opposite Governor’s Gate will be reviewed as part of any wider development plans for the forest agreed with the Council.”


    Forest Service can be contacted on 028 66343 165 or email:

  • 6. How can I get a fishing licence to fish on the lake in the forest?

    All fishing licences remain under the control of DAERA, Inland Fisheries.  They can be contacted on 0300 200 7860  or email:

  • 7. Are there plans to charge for parking in the main car park?

    There are no plans to charge for parking in Hillsborough Forest car park at this time.

  • 8. Are there plans to charge for admittance to Hillsborough Forest?

    There are no plans to charge for admittance to Hillsborough Forest at this time.

Note: Please keep an eye on our website and social media sites for updates. If you have any further questions about the works, please contact the team managing the Hillsborough Forest Development Project by calling 028 9244 7629 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm)

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