Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds has welcomed plans by the National Trust and Moyle Council to deliver a new publicly-owned visitors' centre at the Giant's Causeway.
Mr Dodds, who met with representatives of both organisations yesterday, said: "I welcome the National Trust and Moyle District Councils' plans to work together to find a solution to deliver a visitor facility worthy of the world heritage site at the Giant's Causeway.
"I want to see this world heritage site maintained and I have always encouraged a timely solution which would deliver value for money for the taxpayer but which would also deliver the high standard of visitor facility expected at Northern Ireland's most popular tourism attraction."
The agreement will pave the way for a planning application for premises to replace the council-owned Causeway building, badly damaged by fire in 2000.
It will be viewed as a serious counter to the bid by developer Seymour Sweeney for a centre on nearby land in his ownership.
The trust and council had both been on board a long-standing Department of Enterprise-led scheme for a new centre.
But Mr Dodds put that project on hold in September, after Environment Minister Arlene Foster announced she was " of a mind" to grant planning permission to Mr Sweeney's rival blueprint. A final decision on his application has yet to be taken.
The council and the trust are effectively now pushing ahead towards their goal, with the department no longer involved as a partner.
The National Trust owns the famous Causeway stones, while Moyle Council owns the existing visitor centre site and adjacent car-park.
Under the partnership, the council's landholding will be leased to the trust, which is also likely to take the lead role in the planning process. Funding for a new centre is expected to be sought from a number of sources, including the Trust's own coffers.
Madeline Black, chair of Moyle District Council, said: "We had a really positive meeting with the minister and his officials. Moyle District Council strongly believes that visitor facilities at the Giant's Causeway should remain in public ownership and that income generated at the site should be reinvested there and in the wider area."
Hilary McGrady, the National Trust's Director for Northern Ireland, added:
"Our goals are the same as those of Minister Dodds. We too want to ensure that new visitor facilities at the Causeway will be of a world-class standard, provide good value to the public purse and are timely.
"We are also committed to ensuring that UNESCO's requirements for the protection of the World Heritage Site are met.
"The approach proposed by the National Trust and Moyle District Council is the only way that all four of these key objectives can be delivered."