“this would have a major adverse impact on the landscape character..”

It’s still not a smoking gun, but the Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon has seen the Department of the Environment’s file on the controversial planning application by Seymour Sweeney for a development at the Giants’ Causeway and he’s picked out one document in particular from that file – the views of the Department’s Environment and Heritage Service on Mr Sweeney’s planning application in December 2002.

Written by Dr John Faulkner, EHS director of Natural Heritage, the letter stated: “EHS has major concerns in relation to this proposal and recommends that planning permission be refused.”
Dr Faulkner proposed a rejection on the grounds that Mr Sweeney’s blueprint would breach three separate policies relating to the protection of the Causeway’s setting.
He voiced particular concern that the development would be in addition to existing visitor buildings.
“The effect of this proposal would therefore be to expand significantly the developed area at the Causeway Head,” Dr Faulkner stated.
“EHS considers that this would have a major adverse impact on the landscape character and quality of the approach to the world heritage site.
“As a consequence, the visitor experience to this outstanding natural phenomenon would be markedly devalued.”

The Belfast Telegraph report also points out that

Papers in the file also indicate that Planning Service officials were working towards a refusal recommendation in recent years.

Draft reasons for rejection were drawn up, although the option of a public inquiry was also floated at one point.

However, the final advice given to Mrs Foster by top officials in the Planning Service’s planning management board remains unknown at present.

The Minister recently stated that, after receiving a report from the Planning Service, she was “of a mind to approve” the application.

Some deft work with a Freedom of Information request too.

Documentation submitted as part of this application has been released by HLF [Heritage Lottery Fund] to this newspaper under the freedom of information act. HLF stated that the application was made in the second half of 2002 and turned down the following year.

The documentation reveals that Dr Paisley was named in Mr Sweeney’s grant application as one of three people who would “shortly be trustees” of the trust.

I’ll just repeat the points I made in this comments zone previously

the DUP’s argument [is] that government should only intervene in such a project when the market fails. A perfectly plausible small-government argument to explain why they would support a private development for the Causeway Visitors’ Centre.

The problem for the DUP however, given their obvious familiarity, is that the only private development currently proposed is Seymour Sweeney’s.

Even that, in itself, isn’t necessarily an insurmountable problem..

Apart from the fact that UNESCO seem to have formed the view that that particular private development would interfere with the World Heritage Status of the Giants’ Causeway.

And that, in its current form, it appears to run foul of previous decisions by government about the publicly funded project for a Causeway Visitors’ Centre.

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  • URQUHART

    This looks pretty suss.

    More excellent work by David Gordon.

  • Rapunsel

    What else is pretty suss is that Mr Sweeney’s proposal looks less like a purely private sector development and more like an attempt to secure public resources for the private sector. Why else the bid to the Heritage Lottery? I’d bet that if it proceeds plenty of public money will be sunk into it at Mr Sweeney’s request

    Still he still has plenty of backers( sycophants?) who don’t see the value in a piece of natural heritage for any inherent qualities, but just in terms of how many people can be crammed in and sold tourist tat. I presume many readers will have read the pathetic piece of pro private sector propaganda from two academics at UU in last night’s business telegraph

  • Buile Suibhne

    The last time Professor Carson raised his head was to criticise the National Trust for its management of the site while proposing a Bunratty Folk Village type solution at the entrance. Should he ever speak to his highly esteemed professorial colleague at the University whose expertise is Sustainable Tourism – he might be given a different perspective!
    By the way connect the dots from Carson to ….

  • Rapunsel

    What is it with people that presume the provision of tourism facilities must be left in the hands of the private sector?

    Any significant piece of natural or archaelogical heritage I have ever visited in various countries tend to be in the care of the state with perhaps catering franchised out etc.

    Seems to me that the Office of Public Works in the South does a good job with Newgrange ,

    The Folk park here at Holywood is far superior to Bunrattty .

    The Marble Arch Caves are run by fermanagh District Council and as far as I can see they are doing a marvellous job?

    Why this bias for the private sector?

  • Buile Suibhne

    The private sector was always going to benefit from the Causeway as part of the Causeway Masterplan, which sought to spread the benefit from the Causeway. It is up to the private sector to make themselves attractive beyond the stones. However, when you have a captive market of 500,000 pa there is a lot less work to do.

    As I understand it the National Trust and Moyle plough back their surplus: in the case of the NT to the Causeway and its other sites (they run at a defict in Northern Ireland; and in the case of Moyle to the ratepayers.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Will it all attract even one more visitor?

    It is all about how to extract the maximum ££££ from the visitors whether in private or public hands.

    The visitors go to see the Giant’s Causeway and not a visitors’ centre, the local hotel is quite happy to provide refreshments if required.

  • joeCanuck

    Yes FD but when I go to such a place, I want there at least to be toilets, books and maps on display about the place for purchase, and, of course, there has to be a ticket booth.The last time I was there (2002), the temporary buildings were about the right size. So nothing really grand is needed. As you say, the attraction is the site and the visitor centre is of minor importance.

  • Congratulations to David Gordon on more excellent use of the Freedom of Information legislation…

    The timing of David’s story was interesting.

    It emerged as Arlene Foster, the Environment Minister, was fending off a Green Party motion in the Assembly calling for robust, independent Environmental Protection Agency.

    If ever there was an argument for such a body it’s the appearance that the DUP Minister has ignored expert advice from the Environment and Heritage Service and moved to approve a private and potentially damaging environmentally development at the Giant’s Causeway.

  • joeCanuck

    Don’t know if it has been mentioned on one of the many threads already, but this week’s Economist says that junior’s house is still registered in Mrs Sweeny’s name.

  • Nevin

    Susan McKay picked that up, Joe. Apparently, it was just a hiccup in the burgeoning Seaport (NI) Ltd administration.

    Isn’t it brave of the two DUP ministers to put their ministerial necks on the line? If only they had taken the time to be briefed by Junior – or by the residents of the Causeway Coast ….