National Trust doesn't want golf resort near Giant's Causeway


Background:Fionn Mac Cumhaill – the fabled creator of the Giant’s Causeway – might be perplexed by the whole business but the British National Trust, which runs the world heritage centre, is squaring up to developers and the North’s Minister of the Environment Alex Attwood.

Today in the Belfast High Court, a serious legal tussle is due to start about whether or not a £100 million (€123 million) golf complex can be established close to the Giant’s Causeway in north Antrim.

In a short statement yesterday, the National Trust said, “The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only world heritage site and the National Trust is committed to caring for special landscapes, for ever, for everyone.”

A judicial review, expected to last for three days, is due to begin today relating to whether the site, about a mile from the Giant’s Causeway, is an appropriate one on which to build a golf resort.

The developer is 67-year-old Alistair Hanna, a wealthy businessman who is originally from Holywood Road in Belfast, though now based in New York. He has been planning his dream for the 356-acre site at Runkerry outside the village of Bushmills for more than a decade. If he gets the go-ahead, there will be an 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, golf academy, 120-bedroom hotel with conference facilities and spa, and 75 guest suites/ lodges.

The National Trust is not impressed however. “We passionately believe that such a development in this protected landscape is wrong – once it’s gone, it’s gone,” it said.

“If this development is allowed to proceed in this special place, then the message is being dispatched that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how special or protected, is safe from development.”

Dr Hanna, who has come over for the case, said yesterday he did not want to say too much ahead of the review but believed “a little bit of hysteria” has been generated over the proposed Bushmills Dunes resort. He said: “The development is a mile and a half from the causeway. You won’t be able to see it from any part of the causeway. So I find it difficult to understand exactly what the problem is. In fact I think the development will be a boon for the Giant’s Causeway.”

In granting planning permission last February, Mr Attwood said he had considered both sides of the argument carefully. “The development is an important one for the Causeway Coast and for Northern Ireland, will help to grow tourism, create new job opportunities, enhance our golf product and continue to protect our natural heritage, such a big part of the quality of our lives,” he said.

James Orr from Friends of the Earth in Belfast, who supports the position taken by the National Trust, said the proposal was akin to building a drive- through hamburger bar at the Taj Mahal. “In fact it would be worse, because you can take down a hamburger bar but when you change wilderness it causes landscape trauma that can’t be repaired,” he added.

The complex has many supporters, however, including golfer Darren Clarke and North Antrim MP Ian Paisley junior.

“There is actually a deli beside the Taj Mahal, a Starbucks in Tiananmen Square in China and they are all properly incorporated into these world heritage sites,” said Mr Paisley. “Commerce can sit easily with these heritage sites. There is a simple word for it – it is called progress.” Mr Paisley has sworn in an affidavit to support the development.