Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Parking shortage mystery adds to questions

A mystery over car-parking places was today adding to the questions surrounding the Causeway visitor centre controversy.

Environment Minister Arlene Foster last week signalled her intention to grant planning approval for a commercially-developed centre at Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction.

The Minister's press release said the blueprint tabled by developer Seymour Sweeney involved a total of 200 car-parking places.

But the rival plans - now halted - for a Government-funded Causeway centre involved provision for some 400 places.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that problems meeting the 400 target were a major reason behind the delay in the public sector scheme.

Moyle Council, one of the main partners in the Government-led centre project, currently runs the 220-space car park at the Causeway.

This was deemed inadequate for the publicly-funded scheme that has now been shelved by Minister Nigel Dodds.

This newspaper understands that protracted discussions were held on ways to provide an extra 180 spaces without breaching planning restrictions in the area.

It is believed that the option of simply extending the existing Moyle Council car park met with objections from planning officials from Mrs Foster's Department of the Environment, as this would have involved greenfield development.

Alternative options under consideration involved providing extra parking in nearby Bushmills.

Sources close to the discussions say a planning application for a publicly-funded centre would have been submitted months ago if the 400 parking spaces conundrum had been solved.

Delays with this application have been cited in support of the Stormont decision to advance the private sector alternative.

Moyle Council would be under no obligation to provide its car park to Mr Sweeney, in the event of his development going ahead.

Both the council and the National Trust could also retain their existing visitor buildings, if a new commercial centre is built.

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