Environment minister issues ‘notice of opinion to refuse’ private Causeway development

As anticipated yesterday the Northern Ireland Executive’s Environment minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, has made a statement to the Assembly and announced that a notice of opinion to refuse the planning application by Seymour Sweeney for his private development of the Causeway Visitors Centre has been issued – despite being “of a mind to approve” it previously. No sign of of any other matters yet.. But all documentation relating to the decision are now to be released.. The discussion continues live here. I’ll add links when available. Adds Apparently, according to the minister, being “of a mind to approve” is not the same as being “minded to approve”.. And From Mark Devenport’s blog – “If she had done this in the first place just think of the acres of newsprint that could have been saved.” Indeed. Update Some quotes from this report And The official ministerial statement

Arlene Foster, who last year said she was minded to back a bid by private developer Seymour Sweeney, told MLAs in the Stormont Assembly she has now changed her mind. She said she had decided against the bid over planning concerns. “There are serious doubts that the proposed development would adequately integrate into the landscape and it would add to the spread of development at this sensitive location,” the DUP minister said. “I have therefore concluded on balance and on further reflection that the application should be refused.”

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  • Danny Kennedy: “The DUP have left Mr Sweeney on his todd”

  • Debbie

    That was a cracker!!! He said he’d been saving that one up. LOL

  • “Mrs Foster told the assembly that she saw some merits in Seymour Sweeney’s proposal.

    But she said that she had to turn it down on planning grounds.

    “I am convinced that the proposal, as it stands, would have an adverse impact on the World Heritage Site,” said Mrs Foster.

    “I believe it could adversely affect the character of the area.

    “There are serious doubts that the proposed development would adequately integrate into the landscape and it would add to the spread of development at this sensitive location.”” BBC

    All of this information was in the public domain long before the Minister’s ‘minded’ statement on September 10, 2007.

  • Buile Suibhne

    All of this reasons could also be applied to any hotel and golf course development at Runkerry!

  • J Kelly

    Junior might not get a conservatory built onto the house now

  • “it would add to the spread of development at this sensitive location”

    So what will Sweeney/Seaport do with all the land accumulated adjacent to the Giant’s Causeway WHS?

    Are there implications for the reported Sweeney/Seaport ‘deal’ with DSD for the 96-acre site at Ballee?

    What about Donald Trump’s intentions for a major golf resort, possibly within the 4km restricted zone around the Giant’s Causeway WHS?

    Is Junior’s lobster cooked?

  • Buile Suibhne, Foster has left her party boss and FM in the bunker:

    “Michael Forbes didn’t think that Donald Trump had a high opinion of the locals. “He thinks we’re all a bunch of cabbages,” he told a US newspaper this week.

    No doubt Donald Trump had a much better opinion of the first and deputy first ministers.

    Mr Paisley promised to help, wherever possible, to ensure nasty planners or recalcitrant locals do not delay any Trump project should it come to Northern Ireland.”

  • Rapunsel

    Foster looks like the fool she has been with this one and to expect the public to believe her minded decision ( whatever that rubbish meant in the first place) was originally taken on planning grounds is ridiculous

  • Foster’s Folly :: Bouncer’s Bunker

    Environment Minister Arlene Foster today announced to the Assembly that she has decided to refuse the Seaport Investments’ plan for a Giant’s Causeway visitor centre.

    This follows a report from the Planning Service into concerns that the Minister expressed when she stated last September that she saw merit in the proposal and was of a mind to approve it. She asked her planning experts to question the developer, the National Trust, and Moyle District Council on these issues and report back before any decision would be made.

    The aspects of the proposal that the Minister referred for further consideration were its impact on the World Heritage Site, its ability to integrate into the landscape, its relationship to other development in the area and its relationship to the existing visitor centre.

    The Minister said today: “My officials’ discussions with the key stakeholders have now been completed and I have received their report on those, as well as their reassessment of the application in light of the outcome.

    “I am convinced that the proposal as it stands would have an adverse impact on the World Heritage Site as I believe that it could adversely affect the character of the area. There are serious doubts that the proposed development would adequately integrate into the landscape and it would add to the spread of development at this sensitive location.

    “Although I still see merit in the proposal, I consider that this does not outweigh the planning concerns that I continue to have about it and which clearly are not capable of being addressed to my satisfaction. I have therefore concluded on balance, and on further reflection, that the application should be refused.”

    1. The planning application, which was accompanied by an Environmental Statement, was submitted on 25th February 2002.
    2. The application sought outline planning permission for the development of a visitor and study centre – to be located under a grassed circular dome and measuring 2,823 square metres in size – which has been designed to accommodate up to 750,000 visitors per annum.

    I thought her ‘concern’ on September 11 was about her ‘integrity‘ …

  • Crataegus

    It is the right decision and could have been made very quickly. BUT what a muddle, and we got some insights into the world of development and political lobbying which has become increasingly necessary to help progress applications. However this poses obvious difficulties for politicians and Junior when beyond what one would expect and if nothing else shows at least lack of judgment.

    Several points,

    If the application was made in Feb 2002 6 years have elapsed. That is just not good enough. A developer should have a right to expect a decision (even refusal) on most applications with a few months. This is a wider and serious problem. The amount of money paid in interest awaiting decisions is criminal. The local economy cannot afford it.

    Clearly Ms Forster is not on top of her brief and should resign. The Planning Department needs someone firm with real ability and a proper understanding of the various complex issues.

  • Rory

    “Mrs Foster told the assembly that she saw some merits in Seymour Sweeney’s proposal.>/i>

    I agree that there was some merit in the proposal.

    It had the merit of exposing Ian jr. for what he was and so bringing about his downfall and the end of any meaningful career. So for that, at least, three cheers for old Sweeney!

  • joeCanuck

    What time of the day would be appropriate to have a celebratory drink?

  • Turgon

    I think the person who deserves a great deal of credit here is Nevin who has patiently and meticulously detailed all these goings on and has, I am sure, helped ensure the defeat of this part of Mr. Sweeny’s plans.

    Congratulations Nevin

  • Crataegus, it’s my gut feeling that Foster and Dodds were merely responding to directions from their party leader, Ian Paisley snr. What alternative explanation is there for their antics?

    Here’s a photo of the ‘movers and shakers‘ in happier times. Does anyone know if the ‘going rate’ was paid for the railway company and if the company is still one with not-for-profit charitable status?

    PS It’s a pity we didn’t have a William Hague in the Assembly today.

  • Turgon, any news of the progress of the assault case? I understood it had been put back to January.

  • Hogan

    Can anyone answer the question where does this leave the publically funded option?

    Did Dodds not suspend any further DETI work on it in the DUP carefully choreographed attempt to leave the way clear for sweeny’s proposal?

    Will it be quietly put back in motion again?

    Ofcourse that was before Ian Og opened the slurry tank on the whole thing.

  • Hogan, apparently the DETI sponsored Giant’s Causeway Visitor Facilities Limited company has been ‘parked’ by Dodds and Moyle District Council will lease all of its ground on the site to the National Trust so that the latter will eventually put forward its plans.

  • steve48

    Maybe its time to move on to a new topic.

    What about flexibox?

  • [aside]Talking of Devenport and his Diaries:

    In response, Eamann Poots (sorry that was gratuitous…) says the practice did not influence his approach to the Irish Language Act, but does not help in developing the language in a depoliticised manner.

    I have to admit that I tried to gaelicise “Mervyn Storey”, but its Welsh purity has left my Irish language boffins stumped.

    I take he meant Eamonn rather than Eamann. My own ‘researches’ indicate that Storey has its roots in Northumberland rather than Wales.

  • Crataegus


    Crataegus, it’s my gut feeling that Foster and Dodds were merely responding to directions from their party leader, Ian Paisley snr. What alternative explanation is there for their antics?

    Indeed, on that you are probably on target.

    However there are wider problems and this does not inspire confidence.

    Anyway as Rory has pointed out it is effectively the end of the Paisley era. Very satisfying.

  • “This is a wider and serious problem.”

    Crataegus, it’s my contention that the planning process is rotten to the core and has been so for a very long time. Just look at the farcial decisions linked to Ballyallaght and the Blackside to name but two.

    We also had direct rule ministers waiting for a local Executive to form and settle down; they sat on their hands rather than make decisions.

    The Causeway debacle was also influenced by councillors who had issues with the National Trust as well as with the developer. On the question of whether to sell or not to sell their interest at the Causeway the voting went something like YES, NO, YES, NO, YES, NO, NO.

  • Steve48, there are also questions linked to the Ballee land deal in the Belfast Telegraph on January 3:

    “But SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan has now said questions remain about the terms of the agreement between the developers and the former landowners.

    Details of this arrangement have not been disclosed, and the identity of the other business interests currently involved along with Mr Sweeney has also not been made public.

    According to legal papers dating back to 2006, the original deal involved the former landowners receiving 10% of the selling price from the developers.

    Questioning Mr Paisley’s protest last year to a fellow Minister about the land price, Mr O’Loan said: “If the landowners stood to receive 10% of the selling price, it was in their interest to make the price as high as possible. The only people who wanted the price low were the developers.

    “The questions around this issue will not go away. They raise more issues all the time. They must be fully answered.”

    Mr Paisley has not responded to a Belfast Telegraph query on Mr O’Loan’s comments.”

    These questions were more or less fluffed on the Purdy interview and subsequent Thompson one but were outlined on Slugger on December 7.

    Perhaps the DSD can reveal who is putting forward the money.

  • Mayoman

    This is closest topic I coould find. Has anyone come across this? Thought it was of interest to many on here!


    “THE globally renowned National Geographic organisation has changed the way it refers to Ireland . . . no longer calling it a “British Isle”.

    National Geographic, which is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world, took the decision to change the way they refer to Ireland after receiving a complaint from an Irish-American lobby group.”

  • Crataegus


    Crataegus, it’s my contention that the planning process is rotten to the core and has been so for a very long time. Just look at the farcial decisions linked to Ballyallaght and the Blackside to name but two.

    Nevin it is worse than that it is virtually dysfunctional. What is its function, what are its aims, what are its main objectives and what exactly are the criteria under which it operates? What is it trying to achieve? Has it any real purpose? It is acting outside the law, is applying draft area plans that have not been through due process etc etc etc. It is an utter mess and I fully expect increasing resort to judicial opinion.

    This serves no one well.

    Developers like order, they like to know when they buy a piece of land what they are likely to be able to get approval for so they know what its value is. Most developers are straight forward.

    Neighbours like assurance that Mordor will not be visited upon them.

    The planning process is virtually a lottery. Fools go in and borrow to buy land on the assumption that they will get treatment equal to that on an adjoining site and find to their horror that interpretation has ‘changed’. Their financial assumptions are therefore in ruins and at this point many a desperate person will try anything to extract themselves from the mess.

    Consider someone borrowing £1,000,000 to buy land to develop (small site). Imagine that the Planning process takes 18 months and not 3-4 months. That person has paid out in the region of £80,000 in extra interest. This is happening across NI it is costing the local economy serious money that it cannot afford.

    Also because of the lack of clarity people are submitting schemes, revised schemes, revised revised schemes, this is despite having meetings etc with the Planning Service. “Comments expressed at such meetings are without prejudice.” Again this adds to costs, serves no real purpose. Who gains? What is achieved?

    Ever wondered why housing went through the roof? Simple they created a shortage of development opportunities and prices rocketed. You cannot go from a policy of a house in every lane to one of NO houses in rural areas without balancing out the equation in a rational manner. You cannot expect 60% of housing to be build in Belfast if the sites are not available and the infrastructure is not in place. This is not planning it is utter chaos.

    Question is who is responsible, Planners being inept or is the problem lack of political direction or a combination of both?

    Anyway that is my rant, I now spend most of my time out East a much much better place to do business, with quicker turn round times and frankly just a better ‘atmosphere’.

    I see patterns, and all I can say is that some people must have the luck of Lucifer, or superb professionals working on their behalf and others don’t. Over and over I have seen schemes approved and others that to my eyes seem similar refused, but them I don’t know the detail and may be making erroneous assumptions.

    If people keep digging some senior heads may be found to be uncomfortably close to developers. Roll on the day, we all know the rumours.

  • ulsterfan

    Lets not take our eye of the ball.
    We still do not have a world class visitors centre.
    Is there any chance Moyle council could make a mess of negotiations with NT and get a poor deal for ratepayers/tax payers?
    We do not want them to give the family silver away.

  • Crataegus


    Lets not take our eye of the ball.
    We still do not have a world class visitors centre.

    Too true its a very important building.

    As for Moyle Council and the National Trust somehow I can’t see us getting anything that will frighten the horses. It will have braced and framed timber doors painted Buckingham Green with black Japanned Ironmongery and will smell lavender. The WI will love it.

    Let’s invite Libeskind to have a look at it.

    More than anything else I wish they would repair the lower path beyond the causeway. In my opinion a greater educational resource than the Causeway.

    Totally off subject; does anyone know whatever happened to the Gobbin’s path project in Islandmagee?

  • Gobbins

    Totally off subject; does anyone know whatever happened to the Gobbin’s path project in Islandmagee?

    Yep, last week…..

    AN ambitious £6 million scheme to reinstate the Gobbins path network to its Victorian heyday was unveiled this week.
    Larne Council unanimously backed Belfast-based consultancy Scott Wilson’s proposals at a meeting on Monday.

    The total cost of the project is just under £6 million – around half of which will be needed to pay for path restoration and £1.5 million for a new visitors’ centre. More funding will be needed for surveys, an upper clifftop path and land purchases. The council’s projected input is £2 million over two years.

    Gordon Clarke, from Scott Wilson consultancy, said that the Gobbins path was the number one tourist attraction in Northern Ireland in its day – “more so than the Giant’s Causeway. There’s nothing like the path in the world.”

    The overall concept includes restoration of the Gobbins path from Wise’s Eye to Gordon’s Leap, paid access for the public, a new visitors’ centre – sharing facilities with the Islandmagee residents’ association – an advance booking system, an upper cliff path for those with limited mobility and a choice of guided tours.

    Mr Clarke said: “It’s about understanding the ecology – it will be a really fantastic experience. There will be small groups with a guide explaining things as they go along.”

    Judith Annett, from Scott Wilson’s, said that tour operators are very happy with the plans, adding: “The restoration can be achieved with minimum environmental impact. It should have minimum impact on local roads.There’ a critical bird survey that needs to be done.”

    Scott Wilson’s envisage access to the paths costing £6 per head, to include special gear and a guided tour. If the project is realised the paths should attract around 50,000 visitors in the first year, rising to 70,000, Mr Clarke said. Until the fourth year, councillors heard, the project is likely to incur a small deficit but after that time it will generate a surplus of around £38,000. Annual running costs are expected to be £485,000.

    Time is of the essence, councillors were told, as design maps must be produced, discussions arranged with landowners and a bird survey commissioned.

    Members agreed unanimously to support and encourage the proposals. Money from the current budget will be used to pay for the bird survey, which should start next month.

  • This is an Article 31 application so the ball is still in play!!

    How are Article 31 applications determined?

    When the Department decides to apply the Article 31 procedure to a planning application, it has the option of:

    * serving on the applicant, a Notice of Opinion either to approve or refuse planning permission; or
    * causing the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) to hold a public local inquiry, for the purpose of considering representations made in respect of the application, and to report on the outcome of the inquiry. The Department shall, in determining the application to which the Article 31 procedures have been applied, take the report of the PAC into account. The decision of the Department is final.

    At any time up to at least 28 days from the date of service of a Notice of Opinion, an applicant may also request a Hearing before the PAC. As before, the Department shall, in determining the application to which the Article 31 procedures have been applied, take the report of the PAC into account. The decision of the Department on Article 31 applications is final.

    So we’re in limbo for up to 28 says, it seems!!

  • Crataegus



    That is very good news and has brightened my day. Been out of the country so tend to lose track.

  • Crataegus


    Much appreciated.

    I think there is great potential for tourism in NI generally if we offer enough attractions other than just the natural environment. Nothing too over the top mind you. You need walks and activities. The Gobbins is one that has alway interested me and i could see it being reasonably popular.

    On the Causeway is there any possibility that the lower path beyond the causeway will be opened? It really is of considerable educational value. There are interesting micro climates, vegetation and the geology is just superb. There is a great sense of place and enclosure that you just don’t get walking along the top of the cliffs. You have to be down in it to appreciate it. It really is outstanding and should be reopened. As far as I can see there is only one section that is a bit ‘risky’.

    The Tourist industry along the whole Antrim Coast could take off. It is quite outstanding scenery and the Causeway is the anchor.

  • “You need walks and activities”

    Crataegus, the Executive ought to update the 1983 Countryside Order. The Ballintoy-White Park Bay part of the Causeway Coastal Path has been blocked for about six months and Moyle Council appears to be impotent. I understand the closure might be linked to an earlier dispute between the landowner and the National Trust.

    I’ve not seen any discussion on the future of the lower path.

  • Crataegus


    I agree, shame that the lower path seems to have been forgotten it really is superb. It is one of the most interesting walks in Ireland and a real educational resource.

    I have walked the Ballintoy- White Park Bay section on many occassions. A real shame it is blocked . We do need to open up the countryside, extend the number of footpaths and encourage people to use them. More people in the countryside also means more opportunity for creating wealth and local employment. Where I think we also fail is we tend to be ultra purist and alienate potential supporters. I can quite understand how some in the NT could inadvertently cause this sort of problem.

    If more people are using the countryside as a leisure facility you need, places where people can have a meal, or sleep the night. I am not suggesting that we have unbridled development but it is an aspect that does need careful consideration and does need to be included.

    Also people who own the land, do need to be accommodated and brought on board. They do have to earn their living on the land and raise their families. There is a tendency to treat the countryside as something that should be maintained in aspic as a vast Museum piece and I think that that is utter folly.

    If anyone is walking along this portion of the north coast and it involves White Park Bay time your activity with the tides. High tide closes both ends of the bay. Get a bus along the coast and spend the day walking back. On a good day highly recommended. Give it a go this summer!

  • Crataegus, I’m told that the future of the lower path is under (not very) active consideration. It’s possible that part of it will be brought back into use but other parts might require the sort of metal walk way that exists/existed at the Gobbins. Such a structure could be in conflict with the Causeway’s World Heritage status.

    Then there’s the future of the headland path. It seems that the Sweeney/Seaport case at Runkerry and the willingness of Moyle Council to block public access near Runkerry has put ideas into the heads of landowners on the Causeway Coastal Path, ideas that could lead to less access rather than more.

    Perhaps Arlene Foster needs to ‘encourage’ Moyle Council to carry out its responsibilities as specified in the 1983 Countryside Order and, if necessary, use the power of her office to balance the power of developers et al who may be tempted to use the legal process as a blunt instrument to curb public access, access that may have been in place and availed of for many generations.

  • Crataegus


    Firstly on the lower path, it is not often that I get enthused. They would do well to have a closer look at it. It has real potential. There is one section that I know of that has problems with a scree but where there is a will there is a way.

    There is a nice feeling of enclosure in these bays and if you go through there with children it is very easy to get them interested in the flora, the fauna and the geology. They love it! It is a landscape of high drama, of columns, cliffs and dykes. You can see the layers of lava and all sorts of interesting features. It is much much more interesting than the Causeway itself. You are right down in it and it is highly theatrical especially for the young.

    On access generally, utterly dismal. That sort of attitude really does need to stop. I am a developer, (I now work abroad), but I simply cannot understand this sort of mentality. It is the wrong way to go. If I owned land in the area I would want to improve access and make the most of the potential opportunities.

    This however is where you can get it very wrong, you need to include the needs of the local land owners and have a few carrots to dangle in front of them. Some attitudes by those wishing to improve or retain the environment can be extremely sanctimonious. They have a tendency to preach and try to maintain what is there and restrict rather than manage change.

    It has to be asked, if the NT can run a tea room why can’t farmer Brown’s wife? If we have a visitors centre and car park why can’t Jones run a B&B;or someone else build an extension to accommodate their son?

    Obviously we need to be careful, exceedingly careful, in this location, but time spent finding out the concerns and reasonable interests of many of the landowners and how they can be accommodated would be time well spent.

    I have had an experience some years back of a couple of quango types descending on me demanding I do all sorts of things. The request was related to something I supported but I found the attitude utterly high handed.

    Questions that are worth asking are, if we improve public access what is in it for local land owners? What are the disadvantages for them and can they develop potential assets (in a suitable way) to offset the disadvantages. There are very real disadvantages as not all people behave responsibly.

    Yes Arelene Foster should lean on Moyle.