Judge gives golf resort go-ahead
Work on a £100 million golf resort near the famous Giant's Causeway on Ulster's north coast is due to get under way later this year after a landmark ruling at the Northern Ireland High Court.
Mr Justice Weatherup dismissed a legal challenge by the National Trust which claimed the development would have a major environmental impact on the UNESCO designated World Heritage site.
More than a decade after the initial planning application was lodged, the judge endorsed a decision last year by the Northern Ireland Environment minister Alex Attwood to give the go-ahead for a championship course and five star hotel outside the village of Bushmills, Co Antrim, a mile and a half from the Causeway, one of the country's main tourist attractions.
The ruling was a personal triumph for the US-based Northern Ireland businessman Dr Alistair Hanna who is heading up the investment and advisory group involved in the Bushmills Dunes golf resort and spa scheme, and which he claims could create up to 360 direct jobs and an estimated 300 more through suppliers and construction.
The Trust launched a fierce campaign of resistance because of the close proximity of the proposed 18-hole championship course, luxury hotel and holiday accommodation to the Causeway and sought a judicial review of the minister's decision to approve the application - one of the most significant since the power-sharing executive was established in Belfast.
Dr Hanna was not in court for the judgment, but afterwards declared work would begin as soon as possible. It is likely to begin towards the end of the summer and take at least two years, maybe three, to complete.
He said: "Not only will the resort provide a world class golf links course and facilities attracting thousands of visitors each year, it will also protect the vulnerable topography of the coastal area which has been left vulnerable following decades of neglect."
The Trust, which once applied for planning permission to extend an hotel overlooking the Causeway, had previously said it was not opposed to golf or development, but that it was trying to protect the Unesco designation as a World Heritage site. It also claimed the development fell within the four kilometre zone which Unesco has placed around the stones.
But in a judgment which lasted an hour and 45 minutes, Mr Justice Weatherup rejected all their objections which ranged from protection of the Causeway which was afforded under international law to the impact on wildlife, - including bats and lizards - as well as the economy and tourist accommodation.
The National Trust was bitterly disappointed by the ruling and said it remained convinced a massive development in the setting of the World Heritage Site was wrong.