Belfast Telegraph

Darren Clarke's 'treehuggers' jibe as bid to block Giant’s Causeway golf resort begins

By Linda Stewart and Amanda Poole

Major golf champ Darren Clarke has called those opposed to the Bushmills Dunes resort “treehuggers”.

It follows the first day of the National Trust’s legal challenge to the Environment Minister’s decision to grant planning permission for the £100m facility close to the Giant’s Causeway.

The Portrush-based golfer (below) tweeted to his 217,000 Twitter followers last night, saying: “All the treehuggers coming out in support of NT (National Trust) against the new golf course on the north coast at home #seethebiggerpicture #getalife.”

He later added: “Nice to see that a lot of you agree with me regarding Bushmills Dunes.

“It can only help Northern Ireland. For those of you who don't then unfollow me please! #onlymyopinion.”

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has been accused of second-guessing Unesco’s views on the proposed golf resort close to the World Heritage Site.

The National Trust said he acted “unreasonably and irrationally” in granting planning permission for the resort, which would lie within a buffer zone protecting the landscape setting of the Giant’s Causeway.

The conservation charity made the claims during the first day of a legal challenge to the controversial decision which overturns a series of planning policies designed to protect the landscape and environment around the visitor attraction.

On the opening day of the judicial review at Belfast’s High Court, Stuart Beattie QC, trust counsel, said the minister didn’t consult Unesco before his decision, announced in February.

His own conservation department, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency had repeatedly cautioned him to do so earlier and warned the Causeway could be stripped of World Heritage status over inappropriate development.

Mr Beattie said the trust believes Mr Attwood has acted “unreasonably” in granting planning permission without informing Unesco and “irrationally” in repeatedly saying he had “exhaustively interrogated” all the issues .

The minister told the media he had looked at what Unesco was saying in respect of the Giant’s Causeway in making the decision, but Mr Beattie said the National Trust has “difficulty” with this statement and feels the minister sought to second-guess Unesco’s views rather than consult it.

Mr Beattie said the minister asked advisers about Unesco’s probable reaction if planning permission for the resort were granted, but was not informed of a letter saying it had concerns about the project.

After the decision, Planning Service notified Unesco by emailing a link to a website where the planning documentation could be viewed.

Unesco called on the UK Government to halt the development until it could assess if the ‘outstanding universal value’ that had led to the listing of the Causeway as a World Heritage Site would be affected.

The trust had asked for a public inquiry, but this was refused. It also claims the project does not stack up financially.

It said the economic boost promised by developers was cited by Planning Service as exceptional circumstances.

Yet the only body consulted about it was DRD’s economics branch, which admitted it did not have the expertise for an economic assessment.

Correspondence revealed NIEA had repeatedly flagged up concerns over the failure to consult Unesco and the inadequacy of a breeding bird survey.

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