WHC requests UK Government “to halt the proposed development of a golf resort at the World Heritage property ‘Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast'”

The BBC reports that the World Heritage Committee (WHC) of Unesco has agreed to request “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”.  

The WHC request comes after the National Trust’s decision to seek leave for a judicial review of the decision to grant planning permission for the 18-hole golf course, hotel and golf lodges complex at Runkerry, close to the Unesco World Heritage Centre Giants’ Causeway and Causeway Coast.

As the BBC report also notes

Representatives from the [UK] government’s Department of Media, Culture and Sport attended the meeting as observers only as the UK is not a member of the committee.

NI Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he had sent a letter to Unesco last week through the government.

“It stated that if Unesco wished to come to assess the World Heritage site, I would welcome them, meet them, and visit the site with them,” Mr Attwood said.

“I welcome the opportunity to show Unesco what I am doing to safeguard the site, and hope that the visit will happen soon.

“I will also take the opportunity to outline to UNESCO the decision I have taken in respect of the Runkerry development and to detail the environmental impact, economic benefit and planning reasons that have informed my decision.

“I believe that the WHC of Unesco will very much appreciate how my decision was reached, how I took into full account environmental and heritage issues in addition to planning and economic ones.”

Which was probably too little, too late.  As an earlier BBC report pointed out

Petya Totcharova of the World Heritage Centre said they needed to be consulted about major projects near their sites.

“Operational guidelines for the implementation of the convention require state parties to consult the World Heritage Committee before irreversible decisions are taken on major projects which may or may not have an impact on the world heritage property,” she said.

“Such a requirement exists because the committee needs to examine whether there could be a negative or adverse effect.”


On Wednesday [20 June], Ms Totcharova said: “Timewise, we received quite detailed information from external sources not related to the government late last year.

“We requested information from the state party and received a reply in February that the permission had been granted.”

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  • Angry Planner

    This is what happens when you get a Minister wanting to make big high profile decisions just to be seen to be doing something! This proposal should have been refused point blank when the original application came in 10 years ago, but as usual, Planning Service management were afraid of upsetting the politicians. In the UK that’s what happens, the developer then goes to appeal and if that’s unsuccessful they submit an amended scheme that addresses the problems highlighted. Unfortunately that would require a basic level of backbone from the DoE! Well it will be fun to see Alex’s face when it gets thrown our by the High Court, that is if the DoE doesnt throw the towel in first!

  • Mister_Joe

    I cannot find anything in the Articles of the Convention nor in their Operational Guidelines that would support such a request. Are they overreaching?

  • john

    Hold on a minute here they do realise it is a mile and a half away from the causeway. With all this hysteria you would have thought they were sticking the 18th green on top of the columns themselves. The land proposed for the development will be next to the 9 hole bushfoot course and Portballantrae with all its caravans which just blend in with the surrounding environment lol. They didnt have a problem laying down train tracks along the same land to bring tourists back and forth to this delicate heritage site why is that?. If they want to stop the development then fair enough but a bit of consistency please and no more hot air from the environmental crowd, If they argued about the loss of rare dune scape or found that a species would be under threat then they would have had an argument instead they just spouted a lot of nonsense without giving a single valid reason why it shouldnt go ahead – doh!

  • keano10

    Another stunning triumph for the SDLP’s version of Mr Bean.
    (without the humour I hasten to add…).

    It was truly cringeworthy to see Attwoods sheer arrogance and stupidity when he continually refused to answer the same question on BBC Newsline last week – ie about whether or not he had even contacted UNESCO prior to making his decision on the site. Clearly the answer was no.

    Arrogant Alex even seemed to imply that he could carry on regardless. Good luck with that one Alex. Lets see how far you get now…

  • “Ms Totcharova said: “Timewise, we received quite detailed information from external sources not related to the government late last year. ..”

    UNESCO contacted DCMS in London on 20 December 2011 but it had already received a report about the Bushmills Dunes resort from the DCMS’s Peter Marsden dated 1 February 2010:

    The proposed development includes a golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, golf academy and a 120 bedroom hotel. We are currently seeking the views of our professional advisors on the proposals and any potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The application will be considered within the context of development plans and planning policies including those relating to the World Heritage Site and its setting and we will keep the World Heritage Centre informed of progress.

    NIEA received a copy of this correspondence. Curously there’s no mention of the 75 ‘lodges’ in the Marsden 2010 report but they do appear in Form P1 received by Planning Service on 11 February 2011; in a second curiosity this P1 may have been placed on the website on 8 May 2012.

    There’s lots more detail on NALIL blog:

    Why didn’t the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport insist that the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment resolve the issues raised in the UNESCO request dated 20 December 2011 BEFORE making an announcement about the Bushmills Dunes golf resort? After all, it is the department responsible for the protection of UK World Heritage sites, including their status.

  • “to request “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”

    Can the UK act on the UNESCO request? Paul Blaker (DCMS) stressed to me recently that planning was a devolved matter and on this issue DCMS acted as a letter-box – I suppose he meant a forwarding facility.

  • Dick Glasgow

    John above was asking for reasons.

    1: Rare Insects
    The presence of the rare Mining Bee {Colletes floralis}
    “Those at Bushfoot Strand and White Park Bay, however, consist of only three small aggregations and may therefore be
    vulnerable to minor disturbances and/or management changes.”
    “In the UK, it is classified as rare and is the subject of a UK Biodiversity Action Plan.”

    2: Rare Wild Flowers
    They have been notified of the presence of 9 rare Wild Flowers.
    FOUR which have Northern Ireland priority species designation are:
    Vicia lathyroides (Spring Vetch)
    Ligusticum scoticum (Scots Lovage)
    Gentianella campestris (Field Gentian)
    Anagallis minima (Chaffweed)

    The FIVE other very Rare species are:
    Radiola linoides (All-seed)
    Myosotis ramosissima (Early Forget-me-not)
    Filago vulgarise (Common Cudweed)
    Calystegia soldanella (Sea Bindweed)
    Anchusa arvensis (Bugloss)

    3: Rare Birds
    I personally found evidence that Linnets (Carduelis cannabin a) may well be breeding on this site.
    The Linnet is actually on the UK Red List of Birds which means that birds on this list are the highest conservation priority, i.e. species needing urgent action.

    Worryingly, I have been unable to find any evidence that any extensive surveys were ever carried out on the site, by or for the planners, to determine the presence &/or status of any Insects, Birds or Wild Flowers.

    4: Archaeology ~ ” … medium to high archaeological potential.”

    “The overall development area has been assessed as of medium to high archaeological potential. Fields 1 and 9 are of high potential (presence of recorded archaeological sites) whilst the remaining fields 2 – 8 and 10 – 15 are of medium archaeological potential based on the volume of surrounding archaeological sites both within the proposed development area and within the immediately surrounding area.”

    Also, how will this development affect the adjacent land, given the fact that it is an Area of Special Scientific Interest & bearing in mind the following concerns:
    “Pesticides are applied to golf courses at higher concentrations per acre than almost any other type of land, including farmland, and there are concerns that their extensive use could contaminate waterways and damage neighboring communities and wildlife.”

    The BBC report yesterday claimed that ~ “NI Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he had sent a letter to Unesco last week through the government.”
    If that’s true, why did he wait 12 years to notify them & wait until after the plans had been approved, before notifying them?

  • As with the parallel thread on National Parks (now an exclusive monologue on the Mournes), it’s worth recognising what a “World Heritage Site” is — and isn’t. This little spat is similar in vein to Sarkozy having French gastronomy declared a UNESCO “intangible” heritage: predictably that instantly became a tawdry Michelin-star propaganda exercise — to UNESCO’s considerable distress.

    A neat encapsulation was that of Time magazine — “the Oscars of the environment”. Having a site designated “costs”, in terms of the extended process and protection; but has gains in terms of media attention and increased tourism (what the NY Times terms “cultural branding rights”). There is also access to international restoration funding.

    Above all, what UNESCO giveth, it can also take away, even if that amounts to no more than being struck off the list. If that focuses minds on what is properly “private” and any conflicts with “public interest”, so be it. For what it’s worth I’m humming along with They took all the tree, and put ’em in a tree museum,/ And charged all the people a dollar-and-a-half just to see ’em. [Honolulu’s Foster Botanical Garden is on the National Register of Historic Places, but not a UNESCO site, before anyone jumps in.]

    I think you’ll find that the UNESCO heritage site is properly defined as “the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast”, the six kilometres from the immediate Causeway to Benbane Head, and including Carrick-A-Rede, Dunluce and the wreck-site of the galleas La Girona.

  • DT123

    Dick Glasgow.

    All these things will still exist in the “rough” areas.Indeed they will probably be better “protected” than they are at the minute.

    About 150k people will have been in Portrush this week.There can be thousands more tourists to follow.Get it built ASAP.Jobs and infrastructure will follow golfers a hell of a lot quicker than beardies with sandals.

  • DT123 @ 9:30 pm:

    Err, no.

    Golfers arrive in twos and fours by Jags and 4WDs, and occupy empty and sterilised acres. Culture vultures arrive in coach-loads, and spend more time and lovely moolah in the Ye Olde Ethnicke Gifte Shoppe.

    Look it up.

  • DT123


    You haven’t a clue about golfers have you?

  • DT123 @ 10:01 pm:


    I’ve been married to one for 44 years; and she’s still a mystery.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I see Moyle Council have made “Lobby the National Trust to ensure economic benefits to local people” “a key council action” according to their draft corporate plan 2012 -2015 http://www.moyle-council.org/news/details/?id=322

    Ratepayers can be reassured “How You’ll Know We’ve Delivered” by “Media coverage of Council actions and results” and “Improved quality of life”

  • dwatch

    Dick Glasgow, I can understand the National Trust’s concern if the area was going to be used to build houses etc, but surely a golf course of the links type cannot harm rare, insects,wild flowers & rare birds, which no doubt habitat in other areas of north Antrim around the coast line.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “t will include a championship course, five-star, 120-bedroom hotel and 70 golf lodges and could be open for business in 2014.”

  • Lionel Hutz

    “On Wednesday [20 June], Ms Totcharova said: “Timewise, we received quite detailed information from external sources not related to the government late last year.

    “We requested information from the state party and received a reply in February that the permission had been granted.”

    Does anyone who the State Party is and who the external sources are? Is the State Party the DoE or is it the Westminster department (DCMS?). And is the DoE in that case an external source?

    Attwodd may have got this wrong – at least the procedure – but I cantunderstand how a project in the process for numerous years was not brought to the attention of UNESCO?

  • Lionel Hutz

    I can’t understand how someone in the Department would have not known the protocols? It seems very strange…..

  • DT123


    Well take it from me that the golf courses of the north coast,generate infinitely more revenue than the National Trust does.

  • DT123 @ 8:06 am:

    You may not have noticed, but I’m a neurotic fact-checker, and don’t usually “take it from” anyone.

    So stand up your claim with a few facts.

    I know painfully well that golf is an expensive pastime — particularly when at the annual subscription to her London club comes around. So, stand up your claim with the consolidated accounts — and rounds played — for the ten or dozen “north coast” clubs. It’s as well you specify “north coast”, else we might recall the Lough Erne Resort — was it £3m from Invest NI?

    The NT is up-front and explicit: 3.8m members, 350 locations from Great Houses to marshes and bogs, over 700 miles of coastline, near 18 million paid visits, “tangible”assets one £1b.

    Unfortunately, the NT is definitively a “Unionist” operation; and doesn’t seem to refine the figures provincially. Even so, Larrybane/Carrick-a-Rede gets a quarter-million visits a year (@ £5.40 a non-member’s vertiginous wobble, as I recall), and is in the NT’s Top Ten “attractions”. Mount Stewart pulls in the punters, as well. As for the Crown Liquor Saloon …

  • Lionel, the BBC reports contain some useful details but the Belfast Telegraph’s Linda Stewart has produced the most detailed MSM coverage of the range of issues associated with the Bushmills – Giants Causeway location. There are links to numerous primary sources in my NALIL articles [see June 26, 9:41pm] – [search with Attwood or UNESCO].

    “I can’t understand how someone in the Department would have not known the protocols?”

    UNESCO only deals with State governments ie London and Dublin but not Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The DCMS links list its contacts across the UK, including the name of the DOE official in Belfast.

    Here’s a relevant comment from Jim Allister back in 2007:

    Independent MEP Jim Allister said he thought people had been “shocked by the daily revelations over the Causeway debacle”.

    “How Unesco, the National Trust and EHS can offer professional advice against the private proposal and yet the minister smiles upon it, is unexplained and baffling for most,” said the former DUP representative.”

    The private proposal was submitted by a local developer whom you might know of and the then minister was Arlene Foster, a keen advocate currently of sustainable tourism. EHS is now NIEA.

    Ms Totcharova, like anyone else, can read the objections on the Planning Service website [linked above], objections that have been accumulating for about a year or so. She can also read the DCMS reports to UNESCO from 2010 and earlier. Perhaps the BBC didn’t ask such questions or haven’t provided us with the answers.

    Of course anyone can write to UNESCO and a friend of mine sent me the UNESCO reply which subsequently triggered the recent MSM interest.

  • Malcolm, if the Carrickarede prices cause you to wobble then the Causeway visitor centre ones will blow you away 😉

    Of course, the REAL visitor experience is STILL FREE but you might not notice that on the NT website – though you’ll perhaps have to walk a mile or two for the free one!

  • DT123


    I am only comparing a handful of north coast clubs,Portrush,Rathmore,Portstewart and Castlerock,to the Giants Causeway.They are private members clubs,thus their accounts,will not be available to public scrutiny.

    There are more than 80 other golf clubs in NI alone,2500 in the UK.This report is a bit out of date,but if anything ,numbers will have increased.


    The bottom line is ,that a new championship course and 5* hotel will help secure the north coast as a premier destination for the worlds golf tourists,never mind the locals.It will have no bearing on the Giants Causeway whatsoever and the wildlife will have all the room it needs in the “rough” areas.

  • DT123 @ 10:46 am:

    They are private members clubs…

    Precisely. Whereas the NT, for all its many faults and bureaucracies, has at least a pretence of openness and some similarity to democratic responsibility.

    The whole issue at Runkerry (NALIL passim and follow Nevin here) is historically one of renaming, rebranding and galloping privatisation. The golf course proposal is £100m + (source of finance not wholly transparent) — and I severely doubt smelly oiks and plebs would be made any more welcome.

    By the way, Michael Smyth’s Economic Impact Assessment on Runkerry must be one of the bluest-sky thinkings of all time. The whole rationale is prejudiced by such assumptions as:

    If NI is to compete on an equal footing with the UK Tourism Industry it must have facilities that compete with the best in RoI and Scotland. Without a facility of the type proposed, NI will continue to be the ‘Cinderella’ of the UK tourism market with only one or two attractions considered to be worth seeing e.g. Giant’s Causeway, Royal Portrush but with no reason for tourists to stay.
    At this stage the Project shows substantial potential for success and represents an outstanding opportunity to create a much needed and long sought after flagship project for the North Coast. Indeed the site itself is in a unique location and the quality of the development would seem to be of an appropriately high standard to meet the requirements of a number of pivotal stakeholders.

    If NI’s attractions come down to “e.g. Giant’s Causeway, Royal Portrush”, heaven help us, the Titanic project, and much else: that doesn’t fit, anyway with the NI tourism strategy documents (which blithely reminds us of successes and “developments around Northern Ireland, such as the opening in 2008 of the 5 star Lough Erne Golf Resort, which has set new standards”).

    And no bets on whether “a number of pivotal stakeholders” include hoi polloi.

  • carl marks

    First I must declare a interest, i work for the NT at the Causeway.
    Dt123. It will have no bearing on the Giants Causeway whatsoever and the wildlife will have all the room it needs in the “rough” areas.
    Not so, the removal of the native grasses and there replacement with non native species on the greens and fairways will change the eco system and threaten the native species resident there.
    By the way I don’t have a beard and only wear sandals in the tropics.
    A park and ride scheme from bushmills costs £3.00 return after that unless you visit the magnificent new centre the access to the stones is free.

  • Malcolm, it seems my NALIL reports have ‘encouraged’ the Planning Service to add ‘missing’ material to its website, material such as ALL of the objections – as well as the original planning application. It goes to show that the MSM in tandem with investigative blogging can make a small difference. Even the Station Square development in Portrush has now made it to the PS online website. However, I may need to add some ‘enhanced’ images to NALIL to highlight certain ‘shortcomings’ in the planning application.

  • DT123

    carl marks.

    The fairways and greens will be a small proportion of the area used,the vast majority,being left just the way it is now.Have a look at Royal Portrush and you will see what I mean.


    Surely the vast majority of the funding is to be private?I am sure anyone that wants to will be allowed to play on the course .What has the “private” nature of golf club’s accounts ,got to do with the potential to provide employment and boost tourism in the area and the country as a whole?

  • “the potential to provide employment and boost tourism”

    DT123, perhaps a study of similar projects across these islands would be timely – outlining the positive and negative economic impacts. Unfortunately, at present, there’s more spin than substance.

  • carl marks

    Removal of native grasses is not the only issue, the present ecosystem has developed over the years (quite a few years) and is dependant not only on grasses but also on the animals present both domesticated and wild, the proposed golf course is unlikely to allow sheep and cattle on the greens, the use of artificial fertilisers’ and herbicides will also damage the diversity of the ecosystem.
    I also believe that many of the 600,000 people who visit the causeway every year do so because it is a world heritage site and the loss of that status will damage the economy more than the unproved and to be honest unsupportable claims regarding jobs and income made for the proposed development.

  • DT123 @ 1:21 pm:

    Surely the vast majority of the funding is to be private?

    Why the query there? Is that some suggestion that the “public” should be required to cough through government revenues?

    For what it’s worth, Tourism Ireland reckons golfers across the 32-counties use only 58% of existing total course capacity. Thanks to the economic disaster wished on us, golfing is in decline (by about 4-5% a year). More than half of Irish courses have made redundancies. NAMA had to unburden itself of the K Club (at a fiendish discount). Eassda (while planning a third Irish course) and Lough Erne both went belly-up — and there’s a whole recital of other troubles.

    Were I a financier, on present performances, I’d have grave doubts of getting my money back on a £100 m project like Runkerry. But what do I know? And government ministers are remarkably flexible with public monies.

  • carl marks

    Sorry that last post should finish with,
    will benefit it.

  • “I’d have grave doubts of getting my money back on a £100 m project like Runkerry.”

    Malcolm, there would appear to be little need for the 75 ‘lodges’, lodges that don’t seem to have been mentioned in the DCMS 2010 report to UNESCO. I’d have thought there could well be 75 empty apartments within walking distance of the proposed Bushmills Dunes resort.

  • john

    I would agree about the lodges you only have to look at lough erne to realise the demand isnt there at the moment but we do need a half decent hotel. If there were decent facilities at Runkerry then Portrush getting onto The Open rota could be a real possibilty and provide a big boost for the local economy – just look at the Irish open on TV at the moment how successful it is the Open itself would be even bigger and better!!

  • HeinzGuderian

    I’m not sure how a lot of funny shaped stones can be considered ‘world heritage’,but there you go.
    I do however,feel for the native grass and insects,who may be disturbed if this development goes ahead.
    All those people tramping around Royal Portrush this week,must be without feelings.

    As Big Dazza says,build the new course,and get it done now.

  • Mister_Joe

    I also believe that many of the 600,000 people who visit the causeway every year do so because it is a world heritage site..


    I don’t believe that. I have visited 5 or 6 times in my life long before it gained that status.

  • carl marks


    “I don’t believe that. I have visited 5 or 6 times in my life long before it gained that status.”

    Joe, you (I assume) are not an overseas tourist.
    A great many of the visitors who come to this Island are of the once in a lifetime types who having maybe a week to see the island (I use the word island as that is the way most overseas visitors see it and most are touring both north and south) will plan their trip very carefully. Remember Ireland has a lot to see and a site that has the world Heritage tag becomes a must see without it becomes a maybe see and if you only have a week or so you see the must sees. The two sites in the republic benefit from this trend as does the causeway.
    If we were to lose the status that a WH tag brings we would also lose the tourists that the tag brings, tour operators would no longer regard it as the big hitter in the north as these sites are rightly regarded as world treasures.
    To be honest Joe I can think of no other country that would permit any development to threaten a WH tag as they realise how valuable these designations are to the tourist industry.
    The South realises this and has put forward 7 more sites for consideration and the tourist board and the government there both realise that these become major attractions for tourists when they get on the list.

  • Rory Carr

    Malcolm Redfellow @ 9.35pm

    Don;t you mean golfers arrive in twos and plus fours ?

  • Mourne77

    Dick Glasgow

    All very good reasons, However, would you explain to me why they don’t apply to the new visitor centre? Also as this planning application has been in the process for over a decade,I find it hard to believe that the WHO were not aware of it. Surely the principle was set when the planning permission was granted for the visitor centre. After all permission was granted at incredible speed (for Northern Ireland) so it can’t have been that much of a problem. Or is there another reason that has nothing at all to do with planning or the environment?