“the trust’s over-riding focus is the protection of the environment and landscape within the distinctive setting of Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site”

The BBC report on the news that the National Trust are seeking leave for a judicial review of the decision to grant planning permission for a 18-hole golf course, hotel and golf lodges complex at Runkerry, close to the Unesco World Heritage Centre Giants’ Causeway and Causeway Coast, begins thus

Stormont ministers have reacted angrily to a legal challenge by the National Trust over the decision to grant planning permission for a £100m golf resort on Northern Ireland’s north coast.

That’s according to an anonymous source.  [Northern Ireland Executive Ministers being so reluctant to speak to the media… – Ed]  Indeed.  The only quoted objections, so far, to the action in the report are from the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr, MP.

And, as the BBC report notes

On Wednesday, the charity confirmed the legal move saying it had “consistently opposed the planning application”.

It added that, in particular, it was concerned that the entire development was on land zoned in the draft Northern Area Plan as the “distinctive landscape setting of the World Heritage Site in which no development should take place”.

The trust said: “This is based on a recommendation by UNESCO – the body responsible for World Heritage designations – that there should be a buffer zone to protect the special landscape surrounding the Causeway.”

The charity added that having “carefully considered” all the information relating to the planning decision, there remained “fundamental issues of concern”.

It said it had “no option” but to seek leave for a judicial review, so that the decision could be given the “fullest possible consideration.”

As the BBC reported back on 21 February 2012

The National Trust said it was disappointed with the environment minister’s decision to approve the project.

It said it “was not opposed to the development” but was convinced that “the planning application was contrary to a range of the department’s planning policies”.

A spokesperson said: “As a conservation charity the trust’s over-riding focus is the protection of the environment and landscape within the distinctive setting of Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site.

“We believe this farmland and dune system is the wrong place for such a massive development.

“The National Trust will carefully review the details of the planning decision and consider its options.”

It will now be up to the courts to decide.  Regardless of the reported displeasure of NI Executive Ministers, or others.

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  • Evolve

    The anonymous expression of anger was hilarious.

    With the ministers, its seems the golf juju is strong.

  • Mister Joe

    Still, a golf course a mile or so from the giant’s causeway is unlikely to detract from the attractiveness of it to visitors. In fact it’s likely to attract some extra visitors. Seems a bit silly.

  • The Raven

    Hard to like the National Trust. Its marketing “up here” is pretty much undertaken by every ratepayer from Castlerock to Ballymena through each Council and organisations like this. Fees are pretty extortionate, but keeping Mussenden from falling into the sea must be expensive.

    But let’s face it – if the National Trust doesn’t stand up for the environment in NI, who will? Amid Paisley Junior’s ire, it’s not the first time that decisions from Executive members affecting the environment have been overturned. No one need mention Strangford, over development of coastal sites, and heaven forbid – our track record on built heritage. Or indeed planning to put wind turbines at or very near a Ramsar site.

    Golf courses in places like these are the environmental equivalents of the Sahara. Synthetic pesticides, eutrophication, inappropriate and often non-native turf grasses, and the added impact of more people on an already-under-threat environment and its attendant wildlife – nobody really worries about stuff like that. Any thoughts on where the shite from 120 bedrooms and 70 golf lodges is going to go? (CLUE: it’s sometimes called the Atlantic.) And of course, this neck of the woods is no stranger to the controversy of development.

    I’m just amazed that while Bushmills itself lies in near ruins – mainly it would seem because of an alleged development turf war – the Executive has put so much energy into this rather than fixing a much more visible problem.

    By the by, word has it that the ticket sales for the wee competition in Portrush has not garnered the international sales which were much heralded by all. It seems most sales are from within this very island. And most of THOSE from within a 50 mile radius.

    But folks, that’s only a tree-hugger’s view on things. I’m sure most of those 360 jobs will be well above minimum wage, and mostly go to people within a 20 mile TTW area. Mostly.

    By the way, it’s not that I have any problem with golf, per se…

    I’m sure Nevin has something to say…?

  • jthree

    The NT, not being stupid, know the thin end of a very large wedge when they see one

  • wild turkey

    “The anonymous expression of anger was hilarious.”

    …. yeah but not nearly as hilarious the photo-op that arises when the ministers, all the ministers, attend the initial groundbreaking ceremony.

    competition for predicting the ass-licking strapline on accompanying gov’t press releases?

    “Driving NornIronlands Economic Growth”

    “Putting NornIronland Golf on the map”

  • D.A.

    I notice Arlene Foster is also having a go at the Co-Op (of all people) about their opposition to fracking.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of the DUP, where big business reigns supreme, and screw the environment.

  • cynic2

    Its shameful. How dare the NT hold our Ministers (and betters) to account in this shocking way.

    Why, who knows what might come out and then where would we be

  • sonofstrongbow

    Not being a tree-hugger myself I would not however diss them. Someone has to say, at the very least, ‘hold on, let’s think about this’ every now and again. Also being a member of the NT I do not always agree that it gets it right on every occasion but again it’s doing something useful here by asking for a pause for reflection.

    There are wider issues at play, not least the privatisation of the coastline – and we don’t all have access to shotguns to redress the situation.

    It was not too many years ago that a new golf resort in County Fermanagh was being hyped in much the same was as Runkerry. It has had its difficulties. This North Coast issue illustrates the short termism

  • sonofstrongbow

    to continue:

    illustrates the short termism and poor planning of Stormont ministers.

    It seems that golf resorts are to be the new ‘heritage centres’. Heavily hyped and generously funded only to prove unsustainable in the longer term.

  • “only to prove unsustainable in the longer term”

    Here’s an interesting observation from an American friend who stayed at a plush golf resort in Munster. It was a great setting but business was so bad that you could have had two suites for the price of one and for not much more than the price of a local bed and breakfast. The question then arises, “What happens to the local bed and breakfast businesses when a golf resort struggles?”

  • This decision at Runkerry is just another example of the “government from above” approach of the Environment Minister. In raising issues about a flagrant disregard for published planning policy in my own area I was told that “Planning policy exists to guide decision makers and [its interpretations] must be approached on this basis….[and] should not be regarded as akin to a statutory instrument” Effectively, we have guide lines, yes, but we can do just what we want to do and bin them if its actually going to stop someone from getting planning permission, if they have the support of important people. The judicial review challenge by the National Trust at least has some clear issues of environmental law with which to confront such flagrant abuse of an internationally important public asset. We can only hope that after waiting twelve years the developers are sufficiently worn out to withdraw interest if they have to wait until those issues seemingly ignored in the decision making process are properly evaluated. And the entire economy of the west might just collapse in the next two years! While this decision may not have been “taken lightly” in the words of the minister, as a local councilor once told me, “if it’s a bad decision, approving it does not make it a good decision.”

    And has anyone really considered the damage, yes, damage this decision will do to the tourist industry? Golf tourism, along with fishing tourism is just one interest group within the wider tourist strategy for the province. This drives a coach and four through the one thing that our corner of Ireland is in a position to offer, cultural tourism. Our beaches are freezing for fifty-one weeks of the year, but until PPS21 decisions manage to turn every inch of farmland into unwanted, unrequired housing, we have dramatic and spectacular landscape with a dramatic and compelling history, and a virtually forgotten literature that, if intelligently presented for once, would become a major world tourist draw. In this context our province is a “unique cultural experience or product.” Much of these issues were laid out in “The Strategic Review of Cultural Tourism in Northern Ireland October 2006 ” which no supporter of this benighted development scheme seems to have read. Cultural tourism is one of the only growing areas of tourism during this economic Depression (why is it that everyone wants use euphemisms such as ‘downturn’ for such a serious economic collapse?) While the ROI is sloughing off their hard won supremacy in cultural tourism through concreting in its countryside with ghost housing estates, initiating similar inappropriate development schemes in areas of outstanding natural beauty and, since the disastrous Euro, demanding startlingly high prices for food and accommodation, we up here were in a position to attract those “international professionals aged 25-65 who wish to visit a place primarily for its culture.”

    However, it really is much, much easier to re-cycle tired old clichés such as a “120 bed five star hotel with an 18 hole golf course on a 365 acre site.” (So, the star rating has already been awarded, has it?) This project is just another case of ‘monkey see, monkey do” thinking. The only just re-opening Marine Hotel in Ballycastle beside Ballycastle’s excellent golf course should offered a real example for anyone who was prepared to learn that people do not come from “off” just because you offer them beds, no matter how much money you spend. Ian Jr is, I am reliably informed, a history BA so his championing of this ill conceived piece of cultural vandalism that seriously displays all the characteristics of what has been described as “historical provincialism” should be all the more puzzling as he should be able to recognize what would be the real job creating pattern tourism should follow. But perhaps genocide and plantation would offer rather less of a draw than a richer, older culture that can offer tourists one of the great literatures of the world. Notably the Americans of Scottish extraction who have been long courted by “tha Boord o Ulstèr Scotch” usually learn Scots Gaelic and espouse a Gaelic highland culture similar to….guess what! Has anyone from Stormont ever visited the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games? But then what should one expect from a public representative who seems to be starting up a private paper stationary business in a digital age? This golf course/hotel obsession is just another example of our masters living in an unreal past, as exemplified by the bizarre use of what is perceived as the greatest shipping disaster in history as a signature project for re-launching the almost moribund NI tourist initiative. But will the entire population of the world actually pass through the doors of the Titanic Belfast Building twice a year or will it join the mothballed Irish History park in Omagh and (“limited opening times”) Emain Macha centre whose projected visitor numbers failed to materialize. But perhaps those from “off” with some coins still jingling in their pockets really want to play golf.

  • “the trust’s over-riding focus” .. is to use iconic settings as, er, cash-cows:

    The National Trust have confirmed that a per head visitor experience charge, inclusive of parking fee, will be effective from July 2012 onwards.

    The admission charges will be as follows:
    Adult: £8.50
    Child: £4.25
    Family: £21 (2 Adults + 3 Children)
    National Trust Members Free

    Previously Moyle District Council imposed a £6 car-park charge but access to the stones was free; it’s not clear from the NT link whether or not access to the stones will still be free:

    Minister Attwood’s (supposed) over-riding focus is the ‘protection of the environment …’.

  • “The BBC report on the news that the National Trust are seeking leave for a judicial review” .. is, er, somewhat dated. Alistair Hanna of the Bushmills Dunes project tweeted on June 8:

    The National Trust has formally begun Judicial Review proceedings against the Bushmills Dunes decision by the Department of Environment.

    and I received the following in mid-May:

    Nat Trust going for judicial review of dunes golf course. This means a long delay even if it does not result in stopping it from being built.

    The Runkerry brand has been dropped for Bushmills Dunes – possibly because that name is already extensively used by the developer, Seymour Sweeney.

  • Thank you, Nevin, for the link with Planning Policy Statements from the draft Northern Area Plan 2016. COU 12 and COU 14 are very clear. So there cannot, really cannot, be any development at Runkerry! I am so relieved!!!!

    But wait, the Planning Department, in Alex’s interpretation, have absolute power to suspend policy, seemingly, if the “public interest” is threatened by uncomfortable environmental issues…….

    So were do we look to work out just what can and cannot be permitted in planning policy?

  • Ballymoney and Moyle Times snippet:

    Mr Attwood said legal challenges to planning decisions were part and parcel of the democratic planning process, and rightly so.

    But the action by the trust was deeply disappointing and, coming on the eve of a golfing tournament which would help build the future of tourism, the decision and its timing raised questions for the National Trust on how it viewed itself.

    He said: “This decision was taken by me only after a long time and after full consideration of planning, economic, environment, heritage and other issues. The decision went to great lengths in protecting the natural environment and heritage and I made sure that it did.

    “I have and will discuss this matter with Executive colleagues. I know that my disappointment is shared at a political level. I believe it will be shared by the general public.”

    The minister’s comments will probably appear on the DoE website shortly.

  • sonofstrongbow

    I expect it must be too tempting for politicians to hitch their star to what they perceive to be the zeitgeist of success. Local golfers have been, and hopefully will continue to be, very successful in terms of world golf.

    Tie that into a politician’s desire for the silver bullet solution that appears on the surface as a winner but also brings with it nice positive sound-biteable reportage and you have an opportunity difficult to pass up.

    A successful tourism offer needs to be as attractive to as wide an audience as possible. The family that arrives to visit historical sites will not be swayed by a ‘five-star’ golf resort in the area. Indeed, as Nevin has suggested, should the golf resort struggle and begin to discount its offer local tourist accommodation may suffer in competition and the ‘family’ may be deterred from coming in the first place.

    As has already been noted, we don’t have the weather but we do have the scenery and the culture(s). Closing off sections of the first to facilitate a niche tourist market would be a mistake: and let’s not even bother talking about the (un) natural environment of a tweaked and chemically pampered golf course.

  • Mister Joe

    There are a number of comments here casting doubt on the economic viability of the course. Makes me wonder if the developers have done their market research. As to the local B&Bs suffering, I think you will find that the people who like them will not be going to stay at an expensive golf resort.

  • “it’s not clear from the NT link whether or not access to the stones will still be free”

    I’ve just been told that access to the stones will continue to be free.

  • “an expensive golf resort”

    Mister Joe, I referred to the practice of discounting where similar golf resorts were struggling.

    “while Bushmills itself lies in near ruins”

    The Raven, Bushmills has been struggling economically for a number of reasons. It has lost many of its shops because of the draft from multiples not far away in Coleraine; because, when development was curtailed in the countryside under direct rule, some speculators bought properties, dramatically increased the rent and subsequently boarded up the windows; because some are put off by flags and emblems and anti-social behaviour; and because planners permitted a growth of commercial development at the distillery and Causeway and now also at this golf resort. In the last instance, coach operators often go direct between the distillery and the Causeway.

  • JR

    Ireland has enough golf courses. What kind of Nature Reserve could be established for £100m. I suspect it would also attract plenty of tourists.

  • “So were do we look to work out just what can and cannot be permitted in planning policy?”

    SeaanUiNeill, if you have the financial resources or the right sort of contacts you could possibly go down the route trodden by some: hint at legal action; the authorities are reluctant to face the expense of losing a case. IIRC the courts have overruled statements in draft plans in planning disputes.

    Will they have difficulty finding a independent judge or judges to hear the NT action? Would close social ties to golf clubs or financial and/or social ties to developers or, even, the NT represent conflicts of interest?

  • jthree

    The 360 jobs line is bullshit – Hastings Group with their six hotels only employ about 1,000 people.

    Also the comparison with Lough Erne is not totally valid. Lough Erne is a parkland course. American tourists come to Ireland and Scotland to play on links, if they wanted to play on parkland they would be in Florida or the Carolinas.

  • Alas, I cannot afford to consider judicial reviews myself, but I’m glad someone with some authority can.

    Too few people actually check out the DOE’s website for their own published opinion on the issues. I advise everyone concerned to check out the Northern Area Plan 2016:


    Time and money has been spent to put these policies in place to protect the Giant’s Causeway site from the sort of development that has been green lighted. While the minister claims not to have taken his decision lightly, if he had actually read ( and perhaps even understood) the policies published on his own department’s website he could not have arrived at the decision he has arrived at. Yes, I’m being disingenious! Of course he could.

    Well, I think these policies just about says everything unanswerably, really. But yes, I have my own anxieties about the judicial review even in the face of such decisive arguement against the development.

  • “On the eve of a big golf tournament, when we’re all working together to try and create jobs and boost our local economy, the National Trust appears to be trying to sabotage our tourism prospects; their timing really couldn’t be worse.”

    These are not the words of Ian Paisley, the local DUP MP, but of Donal Cunningham, the SDLP Moyle councillor. The independent and former SF councillor, Padraig McShane, is also supporting the golf resort [UTV link]; he’s also lobbying for an additional 120.bedroom hotel near Ballycastle.

    Ian Paisley is completely tee’d off:

    The National Trust should realise that they cannot use the legal system to frustrate progress in Northern Ireland and that they should climb down from this and allow progress to take place; instead of being an obstacle for progress, they should be an obstacle for benefit and for encouragement and development [UTV link above]

  • theelk11

    There’s is a oversupply of golf courses in ireland. There are 5 excellent courses and 7 in total within 20 miles of this development
    Cheap deals are everywhere just check it online.
    the yanks et al come up here to play ” name” courses such as portrush and royal county down not some hotel resort course . The pattern is a 1 week whistlestop tour around the entire island from kinsale to lahinch to ballybunion to portrush etc.. the pattern is to play and drive to the next days venue.
    Sadly, i have obsessed about golf all my life but I cannot see how 120 rooms and 70 chalets will ever come close to full occupancy, there is huge competition in this industry. Prices will have to be very competitive from the off and the course better be perfect to satisfy these picky customers.
    These 360 jobs are minimum wage jobs in the main, and will not be taken by local people in an economically depressed town as it simply will not be worth losing benefits over.
    This is not progress, this politicians talking up a gold rush on the back of the great work by our local golfers, the golf seam around the north coast is already exploited and a ghost development hosting cheap weddings and dinner dances beckons.

  • Bungditin

    The Minister may be quietly relieved at the NT judicially reviewing this decision. This way he can express his disappointment but still take the credit for making the difficult decision for the benefit of the ecomomy. However, should UNESCO withdraw the World Heritage designation from the Giants Causeway because of the damage done to its setting by this development, it would be difficult to see how his political credibility and career could survive.

  • Planning and the environment are devolved matters but DCMS, being the authority with responsibility for the protection of UK World Heritage sites, has discussed various issues with the DoE – according to a DCMS spokesman. I wonder if such exchanges have been committed to record ..

  • “The only quoted objections, so far, to the action in the report are from the DUP’s Ian Paisley Jnr, MP”

    All the parties seem to be singing from the same hymn-sheet on the Bushmills Dunes project. Does the National Trust have a special talent? Perhaps it should be distilled, bottled and distributed free-of-charge to our elected representatives. In alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, of course. 🙂

  • “should UNESCO withdraw the World Heritage designation from the Giants Causeway because of the damage done to its setting by this development”

    Bungditin, my DCMS contact told me that only one site has lost its status so it seems that the risk of loss is very low. Very little fuss has been made about the new Bushmills sewage works or the proliferation of storage sheds at the Old Bushmills Distillery. I’ve described the new National Trust visitor centre as a volcanic eruption; it certainly doesn’t merge into the landscape as promised.

  • Angry Planner

    This decision is going to be thrown out by the High Court, the DoE know this, Not So Smart Alex over ruled professional planners on the application and his reasons for doing so don’t stand up, hence Junior’s tantrum.

    This however is the tip of a very large iceberg, Environment Ministers regularly over rule staff on applications, often following lobbying from Councillors and Applicants, as said above, DoE management bend over backwards to please Ministers and disregard policy everyday. If Eric Pickles tried this on an application in England, the senior civil service would firmly tell him no but our local muppets have as much instinct to do that than a poodle has to bite its master. The consequence of this is a mass of haphazard decisions and white elephants. I’m reminded about the joke about the old Stormont Emergency Powers Act that some wit remarked only needed to say “The Minister shall have the power to do whatever he likes or get someone else to do it for him,” our Planning Laws and Policies basically say the same.

    Finally when this decision is quashed it will be the Department and therefore the taxpayers, that will have to pay costs, perhaps if an Environment Minister had to pick up the tab then perhaps they would be more wary of making similar decisions in future?

  • National Disgrace

    What hasn’t been mentioned?

    Attwood hasn’t bothered his arse to consult UNESCO – he believes he can charm (smarm) his way through UNESCO – a tad foolish.

    Noone has really considered the economic arguments – a projected turnover of £35m by the developers would amount to something similar to the Europa, Merchant and Hilton all in one location surrounded by Royal Portrush, Royal County Down and Portstewart. All in a rural location with little visitation between Halloween and Easter.

    The visitor centre plans fully comply with UNESCO’s recommendations for the site and existing and proposed planning policies; the golf course doesn’t.

    To compare the proposed Runkerry Hotel with the recently spruced up Causeway Hotel is ridiculous.

    The proposals at the Causeway are costing the NI taxpayer £12m less than when NITB was the promoter.

    The JR proceedings are time bound by the courts. The actual planning approval did not issue until late March.

  • I begin wonder if the Runkerry development plan is actually an example of a local “Cargo Cult”? Perhaps our excellent Anthropology Department at QUB would clarify this for me!

    As I understand it, Cargo Cults started to appear in pre-industrial societies (what in Tyler’s day used to be called “primitive”) in the south seas when such cultures came into contact with more advanced cultures possessing very desirable manufactured goods. Cult participants have little understanding of how these goods actually come into being. They focus their energy on overcoming magically the “power” by which members of industrial societies “attract” the goods, and attempt to challenge them with counter “attraction” rituals intended to draw the “cargo” to themselves. Notable examples of cargo cult activity might include the building of mock airstrips, airports, offices, and dining rooms, sometimes even entire hotel structures, although the golf course is a new one on me!

    In a process called “fetishization” the cult members create non-functioning copies of goods they have seen that mark the more advanced societies, such as radios or cars made of coconuts and straw. These building activities are intended, like the development activities described earlier, to “attract” the actual goods of the more advanced culture with no more effort on the part of the cult members. As cult members conceive the situation there is no further need to develop proper manufacturing or any knowledge of science proper, let along assess what is actually possible in the real world. Does any of this ring any bells yet?

    Even when these building projects, which may cost the cult members exceptional amounts of time and wealth, finally fail to deliver anything this is put down to some magical failure on the devotees’ part. I’m uncertain as to whither they have got around to raising bank loans to pay for such pointless building activity or to the development of bloated public sector employment as a substitute for assessing how to develop a proper manufacturing base yet, however, but I’m pretty sure that unlike our local Cargo Cults devotees, the Melanesian Cult members have not yet got around to paying for professional planning advice that can be willfully ignored as part of the ritual process.

    Oh, and a cult on the Island of Tanna worships Prince Philip as a god. He is said to be the brother of John Frum, the Cargo cult spirit who will return to Tanna on February 15th some year with untold quantities of goods for his true believers, making them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

  • Just to avoid confusion, Seymour Sweeney is associated with development at Runkerry. The golf resort development is labelled Bushmills Dunes and it lies mainly in the townlands of Ballytaylor and Dooey – just north of Bushmills and on the east bank of the River Bush.

    UNESCO deals only with national governments, not devolved administrations; in this case it deals with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport at Westminster, the guardian of UK World Heritage sites.

  • andnowwhat

    With such angry support for developers over heritage, Ian Og really does belong in the Dail

  • WHS update on NALIL blog:

    “.. a brief report on the state of conservation of the World Heritage Property of Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast will be presented for examination to the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session, which will take place from 24 June to 6 July 2012.” [UNESCO statement June 18, 2012] ..

    UNESCO WHC: 12. Requests furthermore the State Party of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to halt the proposed development of a golf resort at the World Heritage property “Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast” until its potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property has been assessed.”

  • Belfast-London ‘collusion’?

    UNESCO asked DCMS for a conservation report on 20 December 2011 but DCMS only submitted this report on the day Minister Attwood made his announcement, 22 February 2012.

  • Mister_Joe

    My faith in human goodness has been bolstered by the great concern shown here by those who don’t want the developers to lose money.

  • “the trust’s over-riding focus is the protection of the environment and landscape”

    Is it – or is it about raising sufficient funds to maintain such a massive white elephant?

    A friend told me that the toilets are part of the £8.50 Experience in the new multi-million pound Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre – so I thought I’d check it out

    The Creationists and anti-Creationists have now got something to agree on: the shop, cafe and toilets should be separate from ‘The Experience’. They can easily alter the internal geometry – if they feel so disposed.

  • Alistair Hanna @alistairhanna:

    Can you believe after they demanded the Bushmills Dunes decision be brought to a Judicial Review, the National Trust wants to postpone it

    As a friend has put it, “another delaying tactic or preparing to back down?”