Tourism chiefs have insisted plans for a controversial £100 million golf resort near the Giant's Causeway should proceed without delay, despite the objection of a world heritage body.
Unesco has called for a halt to the proposed Bushmills Dunes resort at Runkerry on Northern Ireland's scenic North Coast, citing concerns on the potential environmental impact on the famous landmark.
The ancient Causeway stones are designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. But in the wake of the UN organisation's intervention, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) urged the public to get behind the golf course development, stressing its potential economic benefits.
NITB chairman Howard Hastings said: "Runkerry is the right project at the right time for tourism and everyone should get behind it."
He added: "Golf tourism is a key market segment for the tourism industry in Northern Ireland and the development of a world class links golf resort is recognised as an important step in realising the potential of this segment."
Even though work on Bushmills Dunes is due to begin this autumn after a failed legal challenge by the National Trust, a new Unesco report has recommended the scheme should not be allowed.
It claimed: "Given the scale and location of the proposed golf resort development, it is recommended that it should not be permitted as its proposed scale and location in order to avoid adverse impact on the landscape setting and important views of the property, which are part of the property's Outstanding Universal Value."
The National Trust said it would not be appealing against the High Court decision which gave the all-clear for work to start on the 18-hole championship course, 120-bedroom hotel and spa, as well as 70 lodges. It could mean up to 360 jobs. Instead, Northern Ireland director Heather Thompson said it would be actively seeking ways to influence changes to the Planning Bill going through the Northern Ireland Assembly which she believes should give full protection to World Heritage Sites.
Before February's High Court judicial review ruling in Belfast which rejected the National Trust's attempt to stop the development at Runkerry just outside the village of Bushmills, Co Antrim, and a mile and a half from the Causeway, Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood invited Unesco to inspect the site. The report prepared by an expert from the International Union for Conservation of Nature will be presented next month to the World Heritage Committee, the body responsible for overseeing important sites.
Mr Attwood said he was committed to protecting Northern Ireland's heritage. "It is no less around the Giant's Causeway - that is why the Runkerry application was subject to exhaustive, detailed, lengthy and proper interrogation," he said.