Irish News

Wednesday 27 August 2014

'Trade war' over golf resort plans

Published 11/01/2013 | 14:45

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Alex Attwood plays golf on the site of the proposed Bushmills Dunes golf course

The National Trust is waging a trade war on the developers of a proposed £100 million golf resort close to the Giant's Causeway to protect its own commercial interest, a court has heard.

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Concern about the environmental impact of the Bushmills Dunes complex is not the primary motivation behind the Trust's legal challenge against the approval of planning permission, a barrister for the course's financial backers has told Belfast High Court.

Stephen Shaw QC said the Trust's attitude to any bid to develop in the area followed comedian Groucho Marx's famous maxim - "Whatever it is, I'm against it."

The conservation charity has taken a judicial review over Environment Minister Alex Attwood's decision to give the resort the green light last year. It claims the minister acted against guidelines issued by Unesco - the organisation that bestowed world heritage status on the nearby causeway - by failing to properly consult with Unesco's World Heritage Committee.

The Trust also contends that he did not fully consider the potential ecological damage the development would inflict or whether the project's ambitious economic and job creation predictions actually stacked up.

Since Mr Attwood's decision last February, the World Heritage Committee of Unesco has called for a halt to the development until a fuller assessment of its impact is undertaken

In the first two days of the case, judge Mr Justice Ronald Weatherup heard both the Trust and Mr Attwood's legal representatives make their cases. On the case's final day, Mr Shaw, representing the developers, claimed there were other factors driving the Trust's challenge.

"The Trust cloaks itself as a guardian of the environment and conservation interests," he said. "We're not disputing that it doesn't have a function in that role but what's less appreciated is the National Trust is also a business, a commercial enterprise.

"This (case) is the commercial wing of the National Trust at war with what it perceives to be an economic and trade rival. This is what really lies behind this latest attempt to derail this project."

Bringing the three-day review to a close, Justice Weatherup said: "I will try to issue a decision as soon as I can get the opportunity to do so."

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