Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway golf resort: Trust opposition is 'commercial'

An impression of what the new hotel will look like at Runkerry
Image caption An impression of what the proposed new hotel at Runkerry would look like

The National Trust's legal bid to block a £100m golf resort near the Giant's Causeway amounts to a trade war by other means, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for the Runkerry project team claimed the charity's opposition was based on commercial interests.

The project includes a five-star, 120-bedroom hotel and 75 villas, built close to the World Heritage site.

The trust wants a judicial review of the planning approval. On Friday, judgement was reserved.

Developers claim the proposed Bushmills resort would create about 360 jobs and a further 300 through suppliers and construction.

The investment and advisory team, led by US-based Northern Ireland man Dr Alistair Hanna, have predicted the course and hotel could be ready by 2015.

Image caption The Giant's Causeway was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986

On Friday, their barrister claimed business interests lay behind the legal challenge.

The barrister acknowledged the trust's environmental and conservation work.

But in submissions to Mr Justice Weatherup, the barrister also pointed to its ownership of the refurbished 28-bedroom Causeway Hotel, located a five-minute walk from the world-famous tourist attraction.

The lawyer argued that the charity's commercial wing would want to promote and protect this asset against what it perceived to be an economic rival.

"That's what really lies behind this latest attempt to derail this project," he claimed.

"It's a trade war by other means."

According to the trust's legal team, Environment Minister Alex Attwood acted unreasonably and irrationally in granting planning permission last February.

The minister was also accused of second-guessing the views of Unesco - the UN body in charge or heritage - by allegedly failing to properly consult them before taking his decision.

Counsel for the department has argued, however, that the challenge is doomed to fail because world heritage authority guidelines have no standing in UK law.

Backing that view, the barrister for the investment and advisory team, further rejected claims about the potential ecological impact and threat to the habitat of rare species.

He said that those behind the project were intent on building a world-class resort whose main attraction for golfers would be the surrounding sand dunes rather than the Causeway itself.

'Golfing community'

It was nonsensical to suggest anything would be done to "rubbish" the natural environment, the court was told.

Dr Hanna's international business pedigree was also emphasised.

"This is not some naive, optimistic young man who has inherited a fortune and is about to blow it on some fantasy project on the north coast," Mr Shaw said.

The judge heard how political representatives, tourism chiefs and the golfing community have all backed the plans.

In a further attack on the trust's opposition, the barrister likened it to the famous quote by Groucho Marx: "Whatever it is, I'm against it".

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