UNESCO pitches golf ball into Runkerry bunker

It took a long time to work through the planning process, but in February 2012 the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa finally received planning permission. A year later in February 2013, the National Trust lost its judicial review of the decision and have not appealed.

Minister of the Environment Alex Attwood invited Unesco to visit the Giant’s Causeway and the Causeway Coast. Quotes from their inspection report have been released and will be considered by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee which meets next month in Cambodia.

[BBC] The report, carried out for Unesco by one of its advisory bodies, states that the planned resort – 550 metres outside the boundary of the Causeway site in north Antrim – would “create an irreversible change of landscape character” in a protected area of outstanding natural beauty.

It also criticises the fact that it was not kept fully informed about the development before decisions were taken by Environment Minister Alex Attwood …

But Unesco believes it does not comply with “heritage-led development given its scale and location and would impact on important views in the landscape setting”. It adds the resort “should not be permitted in its proposed scale and location.”

The report also calls on the government to consider strengthening the law to ensure the impact of any proposed development near world heritage sites are “adequately assessed.”

Prime Minister David Cameron on Giants CausewayThe National Trust have responded to the Unesco report by confirming that they “will not be appealing the Court’s decision”.

Instead it will be actively seeking ways to influence changes to the Planning Bill currently going through the Northern Ireland Assembly which it believes should give full protection to World Heritage Sites.

Shutting the door before the next horse bolts – since we only have one World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. (Marble Arch Caves counts as a Unesco-recognised Geopark.)

The Unesco report states:

Given the scale and location of the proposed golf resort development project, it is recommended that it should not be permitted at its proposed scale and location in order to avoid adverse impact on the landscape setting and important views of the property, which are part of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value.

Unesco calls for consultation on “modifications and alternatives” to the existing golf resort plans, and has requested that the state reply to them by next February. The developer plans to start work later this year.

Interviewed today on Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster, Alex Attwood was confident that due process had been followed, and pointed to inaccuracies in Unesco’s report.

It’ll take a giant to overturn the decision unless Unesco’s Cambodia meeting can convincingly threaten to remove the Causeway’s World Heritage status, or the developer voluntarily offers to make modifications to better buffer the golf resort from the surrounding landscape.

Update – a few tweets from the News Letter’s Mark Rainey who’s been looking into the story.


As someone commented on Facebook:

they paved Par-adise and Putt up a parking lot

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  • sherdy

    I would not be an Alex Attwood supporter, but I do not think the National Trust have been acting in a proper manner. Have they not built a large structure or two actually on the revered Giant’s Causeway and created a massive car park catering also for buses?
    And this does not detract from the aesthetics of the causeway, whereas a project 500m away will cause it to lose its UNESCO heritage status. Certainly doesn’t seem logical.
    The land of the proposed new golf complex at present looks like wilderness and if converted sympathetically it could still provide a haven for wildlife, flora and fauna, and guarantee its protection long into the future.
    Speaking as a golfer, I would be doubtful of the viability of such an expensive project, as our tourist golfing season can be very restricted (the last decent summer we had was in 2006) and there are ample courses along the coastline.
    But if an entrepreneur has researched the viability, and has deep enough pockets to subsidise it until it reaches profitability, then who am I to tell him/her not to spend their millions improving facilities in Norn Ireland?

  • boondock

    To be honest Unesco seem to make up the rules as they go along as I have stated before on other blogs The Pyramids are 300m away from the 4 million inhabited tip called Giza and stone hendge is surrounded by 2 major roads one passes within 50m of the stones so how come they are still listed not to mention the fact that they kept quiet about the National Trusts monstrous visitor centre beside the Causeway unlike the course which will be 2km away next to an existing course, town, caravan park etc, etc.

  • Delphin

    A link to the proposed design. It appears to have been quite thoughtfully done. My gripe with the planners re the north coast is the urban sprawl that is now Portballintrae.
    Runkerry strand and dune system is an ASSI so any potential impact is covered by planning law – unlike a world heritage site!

  • > Have they not built a large structure or two actually on the revered Giant’s Causeway and created a massive car park catering also for buses?

    sherdy – One might argue that the NT visitor centre was kept single storey and low in height, set into the top of the hill, and is nearly invisible from the coast. Whereas the golf resort [see Delphin’s link to the plans] is building a series of three storey residential suites and glass clubhouse that will be more visible – though the plans refer to camouflage.

    Though to be honest it does seem to be quite far around the corner from the Causeway and I wonder whether people are going out of their way to find offence. I’m sure someone from or with the NT could elaborate on the arguments …