Giant step for new Causeway centre
A new push to establish a publicly-owned Giant's Causeway visitor centre last night received a positive reaction from Environment Minister Arlene Foster.
As the Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday, the National Trust and Moyle Council have established an agreement aimed at delivering a new visitor facility at Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction.
The joint move means the two bodies will now push ahead towards a planning application without the involvement of the Department of Enterprise (DETI).
They had previously been partners in a Department-led scheme for a new centre.
Asked to comment on the formal agreement, Mrs Foster said last night: " I welcome applications from any parties who are seriously interested in providing a world-class visitor's centre at the Giant's Causeway."
The initiative by the Trust and Council is being viewed as a significant counter to rival plans tabled by private developer Seymour Sweeney.
The Environment Minister has still to take a final decision on the businessman's planning application.
She stated in September that she was "of a mind" to grant him approval.
This led to Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds shelving the long-standing DETI plans for a new centre.
It had been years in the preparation, with an architectural design produced through an international competition. But a planning application had still to be submitted at the time the project was put on hold.
Mr Dodds argued that he could not justify the expenditure of further public money on the Government blueprint, with a decision pending on a private sector alternative.
The extent to which the National Trust and Moyle Council scheme will rely on the plans drawn up for the DETI project remains to be seen.
It is understood a number of grant-aid options will be explored under the joint agreement, involving bodies such as the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Heritage Lottery Fund.
The National Trust is believed to be prepared to back the plans from its own coffers.