Back to the Causeway..

The spokesman for Seymour Sweeney’s firm, Seaport, states that the letter the Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon has unearthed was “issued after [they] were notified by the minister’s office that an announcement was going to be made.” But the 4-page letter, detailing the five year history of Mr Sweeney’s planning application for a visitor’s centre at the Giants Causeway, arguing for a prompt decision and contending that the minister has the power to over-rule advisers, was sent and received on 10th September – the same day the Environment Minister, Arlene Foster, announced she was “of a mind to approve” the application, and the same day her party colleague, Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds, suspended the funding of a publicly-owned alternative. Also from the Belfast Telegraph report

A DoE spokesperson yesterday said: “The minister did not have sight of the correspondence from Carson McDowell Solicitors dated September 10, 2007 prior to making her announcement.”

But did she mention, or should she have mentioned, that particular letter to the Assembly’s Environment Committee on the 20th September when it was reported

Ms Foster told a Stormont committee today that she had received no communication from anybody either supporting or opposing the application.

More plausible deniability and/or implausible ignorance..?

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  • ulsterfan

    Nevin where are you?
    Your country needs you in this hour of peril.
    Please sort this thing out.
    Remember we want to keep the Causeway in public ownership.

  • snakebrain

    Sniff, sniff.

    Something’s a bit whiffy round here..

  • Nevin

    Just back from a little bit of Nookie, Ulsterfan; very tasty.

    SS gets a full page spread in the Telegraph today – but no photo. The main story is the Ballyallaght cottages planning ‘scandal’: “Minister faces new pressure to review Causeway cottages case”.

    There’s the usual Paisley jnr lobbying and the DoE files show that the then minister, Dermot Nesbitt, disregarded the advice of EHS and Planning Service officials.

    Take a look at this Tele quote: “In October 2002, Mr Nesbitt decided that the scale of the proposed development was “acceptable in the context of prevailing planning policies”, official notes said.

    Now back in 2001 local DoE planning officials said no to 14 dwellings; they then said yes after the layout was changed. Compare all of this with the fate of local farmer McCurdy who tried to build a retirement dwelling just across the road. The same planner spoke about the two sites. Here’s what he said about the single dwelling request:

    “E/2001/0094/0 Outline. Mr D McCurdy. Adjacent to 267 Whitepark Road, Ballyallaght, Bushmills. Site for retirement dwelling. Mr McGoldrick stated that this application represented an insufficient case on need and lacked integration. He stated that it would also create ribbon development and that an approval could not be granted.”

    I’ll post here what I said at the end of the blog: “Perhaps the DOE Environment Committee should invite McGoldrick and senior members of the Planning Service to explain these transparently erratic decisions”.

    And what I said two months ago: “Can the future of planning in general and planning for the World Heritage site and its environs in particular be entrusted to cabals of politicians, planners and developers? Planning outcomes would appear to indicate that the current system is not to the benefit of all.”

    Sweeney’s correspondence with the Planning Service is being handled by solicitors Carson McDowell. This company is sponsoring “The Future of Planning in Northern Ireland” conference in the Stormont Hotel in Belfast on 29th November. It costs £229.12 – so that should keep Joe and Josey Bloggs out.

  • Alan

    This seems to have collapsed into another developer-led farce. The joke is that the weight is firmly on the side of the private developer. We all know that – and bystanding means that we are complicit in that injustice. Even the final backstop of the PAC is now recognised as safe hands for private development.

    I chaired a meeting some weeks ago at which there was fierce criticism of planning services for long-term kow-towing to developer-led distruction of communities. The criticism came from communities throughout Northern Ireland. We had a good tally of MLA’s present as well.

    At that meeting, we heard strong support for Arlene Foster in her drive to stamp out bandit-development. That action was welcomed by all present.

    The Causeway has now turned into a cause-celebre in that drive. The struggle of a charity and a local council against the usurpation of the Causeway site by a private developer is iconic of all local community struggles.

    For belief in the Minister’s efforts to choke off developer-led blight to be maintained, it seems the Sweeney schemme will have to be sacrificed.

    Clearly we also need a cold-blooded, forensic dissection of the Causeway Centre issue. Can anyone oblige?

    There seem to be some key issues arising from these new revelations.

    1. There is an implication of an ongoing dialogue between the developer and the Planning Service around the issue of whether a Minister can reject the advice provided by government agencies. Did the department seek legal advice on this matter in advance of the Minister’s decision.

    2. “Planning Service said it is “in no way trying to negotiate or act on behalf of any one party”. It also stated that Moyle Council was refusing to meet directly with Mr Sweeney.”

    What responsibility does a Government Agency have to interfere in the relationship between two contesting parties? Can the Planning Service here be more properly said to have been “representing” Mr Sweeney? Finally, who’s interests were served by such “representation”?

  • kyle

    This one’s got some mileage yet.

  • A navvy writes

    Find out who ordered, filled and delivered the brown envelopes?
    The way this story is developing we’ll soon have our own inquiries and commissions – just like the Republic – up and running.
    The mire of graft is beginning to emerge (about bloody time) and will take years to resovle nothing other than making more legal eagle’s millionaires.
    Let’s do it the cheaper way.
    To find the truth behind all of this I say strap all the involved parites to chairs and line them all up on the causeway coast shoreline at low tide.
    That would give them several hours to ‘mull over kintyre’ and think of what matters most – their bank balances, property chains, civil service pensions, mistresses (yes, apparently their in the mix too! You’ll have to wait for some brave reporter to put their head on the chopping block to reveal this angle) – or their lives!
    The pay-to-see tourist attraction and film rights would pay for the centre itself.
    Let the tide then do what it does naturally and if no-one breaks – well what have we lost? – inept/corrupt senior civil servants, lawyers, developers and politicians!
    Personally, I hope they keep stum and sacrifice themselves for the good of humankind.
    But I doubt it!

  • Nevin

    Alan, you might want to look at this – the GCVC is an Article 31 application:

    “In practice, most Article 31 applications in the past have been dealt with by Notice of Opinion, indicating that the Department proposes to either grant or refuse planning permission. This is likely to remain the case in future.

    However, the Department may cause a public local inquiry to be held where it is considered that the inquiry process will provide additional information to inform the Department in making a final planning decision.

    A key test for the Department in deciding the process route will be whether a public local inquiry is necessary to provide all the information to enable the planning decision to be taken.”

    Will the Minister do a ‘sweetheart deal’ with the developer – or won’t she? Has the developer already got an agreement in writing – or just a ‘minded’ opinion?

  • Nevin

    Don’t be silly, navvy. There are no sexual shenanigans in North Antrim; they don’t even do line-dancing!!

  • Nevin

    The ‘big brother’ show rumbled on in last night’s Belfast Telegraph – though, so far, no one has been voted out of the house.

    McAllister is still there though some might have got the impression from BBC’s Spotlight that he was keen to walk away.

    Junior, from the comfort of the Devenport Diary room, moaned,

    “What we see now is, if you like, a pretty pathetic, childish attack, probably on me because I happened to buy one of these houses and because the applicant happens to be a unionist.

    “And I think we need to move away from that and look at these thinks coldly and soberly and recognise that there are no issues here that the public needs to be concerned about.”

    But what about the ‘will she or won’t she’ relationship between Foster and Sweeney? She seems to like the cut of his jib and he appears confident of consummation. And McKay has challenged Foster to a pillow fight …

    I’ve posted the following to the Devenport Diaries, “Junior on Senior” [There only appears to be one diary …]

    “.. there are no issues here that the public needs to be concerned about” .. Junior on Ballyallaght Farms Cottages development

    He cannot be serious!!

    Ballyallaght lies within the Giant’s Causeway WHS 4km buffer zone and, in 1999, special restrictions were put in place: “Policy BH 5 states that: ‘The Department will operate a presumption in favour of the preservation of the WHS. Development, which would adversely affect such sites or the integrity of their settings, will not be permitted unless there are exceptional circumstances.'”

    Perhaps Mr McGoldrick, Coleraine planning office, (and Paisley jnr) can explain why permission was given, in 2001, for a fourteen dwelling development within the 4km zone when one month earlier he’d given strong reasons why a single retirement dwelling couldn’t be built on the other side of the road.

    There’s also the matter of an application near Ballintoy where Paisley snr and others supported an application, in 1999, for two replacement dwellings when the records show only one dwelling – and some farm outhouses. You’d think that the ‘farmer’s friend’ would have been surprised to find a bathroom suite in the piggery!!

    Will the Paisleys (and McAllister) support a request for retrospective planning permission for the metal and razor-wire cage that now surrounds the former Black Rock fisherman’s cottage, in front of Sweeney’s Runkerry House, or will they press Minister Foster to have it removed?

  • Nevin

    My attention has just been drawn to the following exchange in the BBC NI Inside politics programme last Saturday:

    MD: Apparently the Planning Appeals Commission has said that it believes that this [Ballyallaght] development adversely affected the environmental quality of the area around the Giant’s Causeway

    IPjnr: … It certainly wasn’t the position unanimously of the local council which is made up predominately of SDLP, Sinn Fein and independent republicans in Ballycastle. That Moyle Council unanimously supported this application.

    Where’s the evidence for such a claim? Here’s the relevant minute (21 May 2001):

    E/2001/0113/F Full. Mr S Sweeney. Junction of Whitepark Road and Castlenagree Road, Ballyallaght, Bushmills. Demolition of disused outbuildings, and erection of fourteen dwellings / holiday homes. Mr McGoldrick stated that revised plans had been received for the above application, and therefore this could now be recommended for approval.

    The minutes show that no vote was taken and that no views of councillors are recorded, either for or against.

  • Nevin

    “Documents released to Mr McKay also included the official record of a meeting between Mr Dodds and Mrs Foster on June 7, less than a month after they took up office.

    The Causeway centre was among the issues discussed at this meeting and the account states that both ministers “agreed that private sector development of visitor facilities was more desirable”.

    The official record also states that Mrs Foster “indicated her intention to receive papers and visit the site re the private sector application in the near future”.” .. Belfast Telegraph 15 Nov 2007

    The Grapevine indicates that she visited the Causeway on July 18, nine days after she’d met a delegation from Coleraine borough and allegedly put part of another controversial Sweeney/Seaport development on hold.

    What credibility is there for her assertion on September 11 that she knew nothing about the developer as this private developer was the only one in the frame on June 7?

    Are Dodds and Foster, as I’ve said before, merely carrying out the orders of Ian Paisley snr., their party boss and long time associate of the developer?

    I understand Foster’s plans have (yet) to be submitted for ratification to Margaret Hodge, the DCMS minister with special responsibility for the protection of UK World Heritage sites.

  • the curious orange

    Interesting little exchange from a debate on planning in the first few weeks of the new Assembly, and Minister Foster’s first appearance in her job. (21 May 2007)

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/reports2007/070521.htm#4

    Ian Paisley Jnr:
    The most frustrating aspect of the planning system, which I believe the Member for Lagan Valley Mr Donaldson referred to when he talked about business opportunities in his constituency — in particular, Coca Cola — is that most businesspeople who require the Planning Service see their opportunity being slowed down by the planning process. I can mention numerous such projects in my constituency, such as that of a new tourism facility at the Giant’s Causeway; a new golf facility at Bushmills; and the restoration of Galgorm Castle. Those projects received widespread support from the councils and the community. Unfortunately, two of those cases have been slowed down by five years, and the other by six years, while the developers wait to be allowed a proper hearing and to be given either an approval or a refusal. Those delays are not acceptable. There must be a fast track for applications that have significant business or tourism qualities…The fault lies with the Planning Service’s fear of taking a decision. I hope that it will be encouraged to take decisions. Under local Ministers, the necessary leader¬ship is in place to take those decisions to make headway with planning applications, thus allowing business to flourish..

    In her summing up at the end of the debate, Arlene Foster said:
    Mr Paisley Jnr mentioned three specific cases. I am fully aware of the issues that surround those three matters, and I will advise him and other Members on those in due course.

    ????????????????????

  • ulsterfan

    The big question is “Has she made up her mind and if so when may we hear about it”
    When is due course? The suspense is too great to bear!

  • ulsterfan

    It now appears any private developer may be entitled to a grant up to £10m as per this evenings BBC Newsline.