One of the UK’s largest holiday resorts is unveiling its plans on Thursday to build a €100 million complex in Co Longford that would employ more than 500 people.
Center Parcs has been in negotiations with Coillte, the State forestry and landowning company, and Longford County Council for a resort village to be built in Newcastle Woods, near Ballymahon.
Mark Casey, cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, said up to 600 people would be employed during the construction phase, which is expected to take about 2 ½ years.
"It's the biggest single private investment in tourism in history of the country," he said. "It's a massive project, significant revenue will be generated . . . It will put Longford on the map as a premier tourist destination for Ireland. "
Center Parcs runs five villages across the UK, in Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire, Suffolk and Bedfordshire, providing short-break holidays for families. It has an annual turnover of some €400 million.
The company had previously planned to open up an Irish complex and held advanced talks with the Government and landowners about the concept, but the project was abandoned when the financial crisis struck.
Mr Casey said the company had bought 375 acres of the semi-mature woodland with a diverse range of tree species on which to develop its first Irish resort. The complex would include a large water dome, at least 200 lodges and villas, tree houses, restaurants, bars, swimming pools and spas.
More than 200 indoor and outdoor activities will be on offer including archery, wall climbing, high rope challenges and spa retreats set in forests, which extend to both sides of the river Inny.
Mr Casey said the reaction to the news locally had been "unbelievable". The company had looked at a number of sites, including in Galway and Wicklow, before deciding on Newcastle Woods. "We had to show them the potential Longford has, basically a lovely place to live and that we had a keen and educated work force. The maturity of the woods suited them as well."
The resort would bring about 3,000 people a week to the county, he added. “It’s absolutely great for us. It shows a smaller county can win out sometimes.”
Mr Casey said planning permission would be sought within the next six months. “We’re not expecting objections. We’re saving this forest. The environmental impact is very minimum; in fact it’ll have a positive impact.” He added: “Planning is a complicated process and we want to make sure it’s right. Everything going right, we’ll have diggers on site this time next year”.
Martin Dalby, the company's chief executive, said last year their attention had turned towards Ireland as the company looked to the future.
US private equity group Blackstone currently owns Center Parcs UK although there are reports it is looking to sell to business. Center Parcs said that it did not comment on rumours. A spokesman for Center Parcs said an official announcement would be made on Thursday morning. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is attending the announcement.