Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Now DoE faces calls to reveal all papers on private Causeway centre

Calls were growing last night for the release of all internal Department of the Environment (DoE) papers relating to the Giant's Causeway visitor centre plan tabled by developer Seymour Sweeney.

The Planning Service file on Mr Sweeney's application has revealed evidence of strong opposition to the scheme from senior environmental experts within the Department.

The disclosure has added to the controversy surrounding DUP Minister Arlene Foster's preliminary verdict in favour of the project.

Alliance leader David Ford was one of the members of the Assembly's Environment Committee who viewed the planning file at Stormont yesterday.

He said last night: "There is nothing on the file that supports the Minister's announcement that she is of a mind to grant approval.

"We have only been given access to the public file. I will be suggesting at the Committee that we see the full file, including records of all internal discussions in DoE Planning Service."

The advice given to the Minister by Planning Service's top- level Management Board has not been made public. But the file on the application shows that officials reporting to the Management Board were working towards recommending a refusal.

It also shows that a key section of the DoE, its Environment and Heritage Service (EHS), strongly opposed Mr Sweeney's visitor centre proposal.

In a submission to planners in December, 2002, senior EHS official Dr John Faulkner warned that the visitor experience at the Causeway would be " markedly devalued" if the development was approved.

He recommended refusal for Mr Sweeney's application on the grounds it would breach three separate planning policies.

Dr Faulkner's comments were exclusively revealed yesterday in the Belfast's Telegraph's afternoon editions.

It was further revealed that Mr Sweeney, a DUP member, had used party leader Ian Paisley's name in a 2002 grant bid for his visitor centre plans.

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