Giant's Causeway resort row: Judge backs golf plan
The National Trust has lost a legal attempt to block construction of a £100m golf resort and hotel near the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim.
The trust opposed the development because of its proximity to the Unesco world heritage site.
It brought a judicial review after Environment Minister Alex Attwood granted planning permission.
Developers have said that work will now start as soon as possible on the resort at Runkerry.
Dr Alistair Hanna, who has been driving the proposals, said it would be one of the "most spectacular golf developments ever seen in Ireland".
"Not only will the resort provide a world-class golf links course and facilities attracting thousands of visitors each year, it will also protect the vulnerable topography of the coastal area which has been left vulnerable following decades of neglect," he said.
Mr Attwood approved the plan to build the complex in February 2012.
The development, on a 365-acre site, is to be known as Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa.
The plan includes an 18-hole golf course, a five-star 120-bedroom hotel and 70 golf lodges.
Last year, it was reported that the project could create up to 360 new jobs.
However, the trust had argued that the minister should have consulted Unesco before making his decision as it could affect the Causeway's status as a world heritage site.
During the judicial review hearing last month, a lawyer for the trust claimed the minister had been improperly advised.
On Wednesday, Mr Justice Weatherup rejected all grounds of challenge to Mr Attwood's decision.
He backed a counter submission by the Department of the Environment that world heritage convention guidelines have no standing in UK law.
"The court must step away from seeking to implement, directly or indirectly, what obligations there may or may not be under the convention.
"I must not grant to citizens of the state a right that only exists in international law, if it exists at all."
However, he added that there were "a multitude of reasons why the National Trust was warranted in bringing this application and I'm minded not to make any order for costs".
Mr Attwood welcomed the judgement and said "the economic benefits of tourism in the north potentially knows no bounds".
"My decision to grant permission was finely balanced but I was strong in my opinion that it was the right decision on the planning merits. This has now been endorsed by the courts," he said.
In a statement the National Trust said it was "bitterly disappointed" at the decision and that it was convinced the development was wrong.
"We still believe that if a development of this scale does go ahead in this location, the message is that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how important or protected, is safe from development," it said.
"The ruling today has served to highlight aspects of very serious concern for those partners involved in the care and protection of the world heritage site."
The North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley, said it was right that the development goes ahead and that the trust knew they had "no case".
"Their actions I still believe have been disgraceful and damaging for the Northern Ireland economy, but we must take heart in today's decision and look to move forward as the course progresses," he said.
Among those who said the hotel should be built was golfer Darren Clarke.
He said that he "didn't get how" the plans would damage the area when they were further away than a hotel and car park adjacent to the site which is owned by the Trust itself.
The 2011 Open champion called those opposing the plan "treehuggers".