Unesco 'not consulted' before golf resort go-ahead given

BBC Newsline's business correspondent Kevin Magee reports.

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Unesco was informed by Stormont it had given the go-ahead to a controversial resort near the Giants Causeway after it requested information about the plans, a senior figure has said.

The UN's heritage organisation wants building plans halted until the potential impact can be assessed.

The Giant's Causeway is the only world heritage site in Northern Ireland.

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."

It emerged last week that the National Trust is trying to have the planning decision judicially reviewed by the courts.

The proposed course would include a 120-bedroom hotel at Runkerry on the north coast near the Causeway.

Unesco has expressed concern that the development is too close to the Causeway stones.

Measures

On Wednesday, 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."

The request to ask the UK government to halt the Runkerry project is on the agenda of the World Heritage Committee's forthcoming annual meeting in St Petersburg.

Ms Totcharova said they would not be making any imminent decision on removing the Giants Causeway's world heritage status.

"A lot of measures can be taken, and are usually taken, to avoid such a development," she said.

Speaking on Tuesday, after details emerged of Unesco's intervention, Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he had examined all issues when giving the project the go-ahead.

"I made sure over a very long time and a very lengthy process that I complied with best practice when it came to all the issues around the decision," he said.

Last week, Stormont ministers reacted angrily to the National Trust's legal challenge.

The development has been one of Northern Ireland's longest running planning disputes.

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