Hotel and golf resort will boost local economy and tourism, says minister
Alex Attwood plays golf on the site of the proposed development.
The Giant's Causeway
Heather Thompson of the National Trust
A controversial £100 million (€115 million) luxury hotel and golf resort planned for the north Antrim coast beside the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site can now proceed following a Belfast High Court judgment.
A case taken by the National Trust which opposes the plans for the Bushmills Dunes golf resort was rejected by Mr Justice Weatherup. He ruled that the decision last February by Stormont Minister for the Environment Alex Attwood to grant approval at the 365-acre site was properly arrived at. Work on a championship golf course, a five-star 120-room hotel, 70 golf lodges and a golf academy and spa can now begin at the site at Runkerry, Co Antrim.
The National Trust sought the judicial review on a range of grounds including concerns about the environmental impact and compliance with standards to protect world heritage set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The trust was also concerned the development could set a dangerous precedent for further large projects.
However, the judge rejected the applicant’s case although he conceded the organisation had grounds for its challenge and he has yet to make a ruling on costs. In a key section of his two-hour ruling delivered yesterday he said that national legislation and not the requirements of international law had to take precedence. He said planning protocol had been followed.
Mr Justice Weatherup also found for the Department of the Environment and the Minister, rejecting concerns about the impact of the development on the local economy, on protected animals and flora and other environmental considerations including drainage.
The National Trust said it was disappointed with the ruling while two Stormont Ministers applauded it and expressed optimism that the development would greatly boost the Northern economy.
The judge’s written findings have yet to be published but Heather Thompson, regional director of the National Trust, said she was “bitterly disappointed” and the trust’s concerns for the development remained regardless of the ruling.
“What has come out of today is the need for some very quick conversations between the Government here and the UN in terms of what are our obligations in terms of looking after World Heritage sites,” she said.
She complained that international law was not adequately translated into domestic legislation. “The judge said on several occasions he was surprised those links are not there and that Unesco had not been asked for its views and he was surprised the decision was taken and given to Unesco without [it] being involved in the discussion beforehand.”
However, Mr Attwood said: “My decision to grant permission was finely balanced but I was strong in my opinion that it was the right decision on the planning merits. This has now been endorsed by the courts.”
“The proposed development which is designed to be a world-class golf resort will be a major boost to the local economy and to Northern Ireland’s tourism offering.
“I have always said that the economic benefits of tourism in the North potentially knows no bounds.”
Minister for Industry Arlene Foster also welcomed the court decision, claiming the golf development would further underpin Northern Ireland’s claim to be “open for business”.
“The development at Runkerry will significantly boost our reputation as a first-class golf destination, building on the unprecedented success of last year’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush,” she said.