The green light for a £100 million golf resort on the fringes of the Giant's Causeway will not endanger the famous landmark's world heritage designation, Northern Ireland's Environment Minister has pledged.
Granting the long-sought planning permission for the 18-hole championship links course and five star hotel complex on the spectacular sand dunes near Bushmills, Co Antrim, Alex Attwood insisted extensive restrictions on the development would ensure the status of the popular nearby visitor attraction would not be adversely impacted.
Mr Attwood approved the application for the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa in the face of fierce opposition from the National Trust, which owns the Giant's Causeway - Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage site.
Announcing the outcome of the 10-year bid for planning permission, Mr Attwood said he had carefully weighed the environmental implications against the potential economic and tourist benefits of the luxury development.
The complex, comprising the course, a 120-bedroom hotel, 75 villas and conference facilities, will employ around 360 people.
"I will not, and would not, do anything that compromises all the designations that exist in respect of these lands," said Mr Attwood. "I think that's why the planning conditions have been so exhaustive and extensive."
The resort, which is set to open in 2014, is just over a mile from the 38,000 hexagonal volcanic basalt columns that make up the myth-shrouded Giant's Causeway.
Mr Attwood, who faced tough questions from environmentalists at an event in Bushmills to announce the planning outcome, said his decision had been a demanding one and he had not taken it lightly.
He said he was prepared to fly to France to meet Unesco officials or host them in Northern Ireland if they wanted to raise any concerns about the move.
"Before deciding, I wanted to ensure that I was fully aware of the environmental aspects of the proposal - the likely impact on the setting of the World Heritage Site at Giant's Causeway, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the local wildlife - and so recently spent time at the site assessing it from a number of different vantage points including the system of sand dunes," he said.