Environmentalists call Giant's Causeway golf course plan 'inherently and fundamentally wrong'
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Monday 27 February 2012
Plans for an ambitious new golf course close to the Giant's Causeway have received a broad welcome in Northern Ireland - apart from environmentalists who describe it as "inherently and fundamentally wrong."
Official approval has just been granted for a 100 million pound proposal for a seaside golf course, 120-bedroom hotel and self-catering lodges on the North Antrim coast.
The development is about a mile away from the Causeway. Despite environmental objections the 365-acre scheme has not generated political controversy since it has the backing of all the major parties.
The authorities hope the scheme, to be known as Bushmills Dunes golf resort and spa, will increase the chances of Northern Ireland becoming a mecca for wealthy golfers from the US and elsewhere.
This ambition has been fostered by the recent striking successes of local golfers Darren Clarke, who last year won the British Open, and Rory McIlroy, who at the age of 22 is currently ranked as number two in the world.
Northern Ireland already has a number of internationally known courses such as Royal Portrush, also in North Antrim. But the general feeling is that tourism in general and golf in particular has, post-troubles, the capacity for major expansion.
One of the complaints is that while North Antrim offers spectacular Atlantic scenery if has a marked shortage of hotels. Although the Giant's Causeway is one of Ireland's premier attractions, many visitors see it on day-trips without spending a night in the region.
The scheme was approved by environment minister Alex Attwood after a planning process which lasted ten years.
He said he had not taken the decision lightly. He added: "I have carefully 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."
The action of Mr Attwood, a nationalist, was warmly endorsed by enterprise minister Arlene Foster, a unionist, who said it would bring major economic benefits and jobs to the north coast.
The scheme is the work of a Northern Ireland-born business figure Dr Alistair Hanna, who said the plan was to have a world-class attraction aimed at the exclusive end of the golfing market. He added: "In today's world the best is still selling very well, the mediocre is not doing well at all."
Objections to the proposal came from the National Trust which administers the Giant's Causeway, the unique site which has 40,000 basalt columns created 60 million years ago by volcanic activity.
The Trust said it was not opposed to the development but that as a conservation charity its focus was "protection of the environment and landscape within the distinctive setting of Northern Ireland's only world heritage site."
A much stronger reaction came from a spokesman for Friends of the Earth who declared: "It's like building a drive-through burger bar at the Taj Mahal. The precedent being set is that our planning system still cannot protect our most special places."
Who's behind the course?
The North Antrim course is the brainchild of Dr Alistair Hanna, 67, who lived close to Belfast where he took a PhD in nuclear physics before moving to America. After attending Harvard Business School he went on to become a partner at the McKinsey consultancy firm. In retirement has been involved in the organisation of churches in the US and Latin America.
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