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£100m Causeway golf resort driven off course for good as tycoon seeks to buy up land

By Michelle Smyth

Controversial plans for a north coast golf resort have been scrapped with a new buyer ready to acquire the land it was to be built on.

The £100m Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa scheme comprising an 18-hole championship golf course, 120-bedroom five-star hotel and 70 golf lodges has now fallen flat.

The man behind the scheme, Dr Alistair Hanna, died in July and investors were unable to gather the money together to bring the plans to fruition by the sale deadline date.

According to documents at Companies House, the new buyer is Dr Peter FitzGerald who runs clinical diagnostics company Randox Laboratories.

He is currently in the process of buying the 350 acres of land from Sir Malcolm Macnaghten as part of a wider purchase which also includes the £5m Dundarave estate comprising the Macnaghten family ancestral home and 550 further acres.

It is as yet unclear what FitzGerald plans to do with the land which is just over a mile from the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site.

A spokesman for Randox said it was unable to provide "any further detail at this time".

A representative for the golf resort project also delined to comment.

In February 2012, Environment Minister Alex Atwood granted permission for the resort to be built, after a decade of disputes - one of the longest planning wrangles here.

An independent report from Unesco on the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site raised concerns regarding the impact the resort would have on the area.

The report called for the development to be stopped immediately. The National Trust also opposed the plans because of the proposed resort's proximity to the famous tourist attraction.

It lost its legal attempt to block the golf resort development in 2013 when a High Court judge ruled in favour of the Department of the Environment, which supported the plans.

Long-term supporter of the resort plans, Ian Paisley, last night suggested the project could still go ahead.

"The project retains full permission and anyone purchasing the site could engage in a process of realising that permission. That permission still has several years to run before it would lapse," he said.

Mr Paisley added: "In the last two months I have been aware of the interest of another party in taking the project forward but I have no report on how far that consideration has been taken."

The North Antrim MP, who at the time described the National Trust's legal challenge as a "disgrace to Northern Ireland", added that he was in no doubt if it wasn't for all of the delays then "the resort could already have been built".

Last night the Regional Director for the National Trust in Northern Ireland, Heather Thompson, welcomed the news the site had attracted a new buyer. "We can now look at ways to work with the potential new owners of the land to ensure this important landscape and Northern Ireland's only World Heritage Site can be suitably protected," she said.

James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth, which previously described the development as a "form of landscape trauma", also welcomed the news for "the sake of the economy, the unique wilderness and for future generations".

Local estate agent Terry Dobbin said a lot of locals were disappointed because the development would have helped the local economy and generated 360 jobs.

Golfer Robert Trimble added: "We need a hotel for all of the American tourists who come here to golf."

Who's the new buyer?

Dr Peter FitzGerald CBE is the successful founder and managing director of Randox Laboratories. The company, which has a head office in Crumlin, began in a chicken shed at Dr FitzGerald's parents' home in 1982. The company, which has another 20 international offices, is now one of the leading clinical diagnostic firms in the world, doing multi-million pound deals with Mexico and Saudi Arabia among others. Dr FitzGerald has been described as an eccentric and private, self-made businessman who is a huge fan of polo and an accomplished horseman who donates to many sporting events.

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