A planned £100m (€122m) golf course development beside the UNESCO-protected Giant's Causeway in Co Antrim could be derailed after the UK's National Trust yesterday began a legal challenge to the project.
The development, supported by golfers including Darren Clarke, is the brainchild of US-based Co Down businessman Alistair Hanna.
Mr Hanna, who was a senior director with consultancy group McKinsey in the US and is involved in the Christian evangelical movement, Alpha International, owns the Ardtara country house in Derry.
He tried for 10 years to get the scheme off the ground, and last year secured permission from the North's Environment Minister.
The planned development, near Bushmills and known provisionally as the Bushmills Dunes Resort & Spa, will have a 120-bedroom hotel, 75 garden residences, a golf academy and conference facilities.
It is expected to create 360 direct jobs and 300 ancillary positions through suppliers and construction.
But the National Trust opposed the plans, and was granted leave last June for a judicial review.
That hearing began yesterday and is slated to run until tomorrow. The outcome will not be known until later this year.
The trust has told its members in the North that the proposed golf course could have a negative environmental impact and also threaten the World Heritage Site designation the Causeway enjoys.
A statement said: "We believe that such a development in this protected landscape is wrong – once it's gone it's gone.
"If this development is allowed to proceed, the message is being dispatched that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how special or protected, is safe from development."
Last year UNESCO urged the postponement of the golf course development until its impact had been properly assessed.
But Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he was happy for the project to proceed despite the concerns.
"I have considered both sides of the argument, but given the boost to tourism and the economy that the proposal will bring, I have decided to grant planning permission," he said.
He added that stringent conditions to protect the ecology of the site would be attached to the permission.
Mr Hanna, who was raised in Rory McIlroy's home town of Holywood, expects the golf course to attract a huge number of visitors to Northern Ireland.