27/01/2009

Trust's £18m Causeway Centre Approved

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has gave his backing to the National Trust's proposals for a new £18m Giant's Causeway visitor centre.

Plans for the new tourist facility were submitted by the Trust last summer, following years of wrangling over the future of the development.

The original centre burned down during a fire in 2000.

Mr Wilson said the public rightly expected "some clear direction" from a devolved minister on the matter.

He said his department had "weighed up all the options" before selecting the Trust's ambitious plans.

"I have, therefore, weighed up all options including the merits of referring this application to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC), either on its own or conjoined with a hearing into the previous unsuccessful application from a private developer," said the Minister.

"Neither of these options would be of any public benefit and would introduce further delay into the provision of the facility and lengthen the already unacceptably long period during which our top tourist attraction has been without a visitors' centre.

"Clearly this would not be in the public interest. Having considered all matters relevant to this case, I have authorised a Notice of Opinion to approve the National Trust application," he added.
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The National Trust's preferred architect, Dublin-based Heneghan Peng, unveiled a design with a "strong environmental basis" in June.

Speaking last year, the Trust's Director for Northern Ireland, Hilary McGrady, said: "We have submitted a full robust planning application befitting the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site and the surrounding landscape."

"We are confident and determined to deliver visitor facilities which will enhance tourism and benefit the local area and indeed everyone in Northern Ireland."

At the time, the Trust speculated the new centre could be open as early as 2011.

The announcement has been welcomed one local political representatives with the Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim, Daithí McKay - a campaigner on the issue of a public visitor centre for the Giants Causeway - applauding the decision by the NI Environment Minister to approve the National Trust application.

Speaking today Mr McKay said: "The decision today is the right one and I am glad that the Environment Minister has given the go ahead for the National Trust proposal given that the DUP were lobbying hard for a private developer to take control of any centre."

However, he did also say that it "represents the end of a bizarre series of events" which he said included controversy around two planning applications for a visitor centre which he claimed "engulfed the DUP, the Environment Ministry, a local developer and the Paisley dynasty".

(PR/JM)(BMcC)

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