CORK County Council is planning to develop walkways, landing areas and information boards as part of the first phase of developing Spike Island as a major tourist destination.
County manager Martin Riordan, who has been the driving force behind the local authority’s takeover of the facility, said his first priority is to get as many Cork people as possible to visit the island, which formerly housed a prison.
"For the first one or two years we will focus on providingaccess," Mr Riordan said.
Brendan Touhy, former general secretary at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, is to chair a group which will oversee what is expected to be a 15-year development of the island as a major tourist attraction.
"We hope that the group will also include the Port of Cork, Fáilte Ireland, the Naval Service and representatives from the harbour communities.
"I hope the group will have its first meeting in the early autumn, at which stage it will start working on a grand vision," Mr Riordan said.
County architect Denis Deasy and Nicholas Mansergh, a senior council planner, are also working on the project.
Mr Mansergh is also involved in creating a tourism plan for the whole harbour.
Mr Riordan said it was hoped to tie in Spike Island with the Queenstown Project for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic in 2012.
"The Port of Cork is very anxious to have other attractions in the area to hold onto tourists and Spike Island would be ideal for this.
"There is also huge potential for the proposed CAT ferry to open up the whole harbour for tourism," he said.
Mr Riordan said the next few years will be spent on labour-intensive projects to make theisland tourist-accessible. The work is likely to be carried out through social employment schemes.
Hendrick Verwey, chairman of Cobh Tourism, said the handing over of Spike Island to the county council was a welcome move.
"The economic benefits to the entire Cork region of having a world-class attraction in Cork Harbour should not be underestimated. The prospect of Cork families having their own ‘Phoenix Park’ on an island in one of the finest natural harbours in the world is also exciting," Mr Verwey said.
Members of Cobh Tourism, along with other groups such as Junior Chamber International, Cobh Town Council, Cobh Chamber, the Great Island Historical Society and East Cork Tourism have played an integral role in the Spike Island Heritage committee.
The committee, under the chairmanship of local historian Michael Martin, mounted a well orchestrated and concerted campaign in 2006 to highlight the history of the island and its tourism, cultural and amenity potential. Mr Martin said thedecision to transfer ownership to the local authority could become one of the most important milestones in the development of the whole harbour area as an international iconic site, attracting vast numbers of visitors to the region.
"The diversity of history on Spike Island is an international treasure," said Mr Martin.
"The willingness of government to release it and the county manager to take it on has to be commended."