Golf resort will be just the job for Bushmills, say residents
It has been one of Northern Ireland's longest-running planning disputes.
The building of a sprawling, luxury golf resort on the doorstep of the Giant's Causeway has provoked countless heated debates, fiery exchanges and legal obstacles over the past 13 years.
It was finally given the go-ahead on Wednesday, to the relief of those in favour of a development which will create employment opportunities, but to the despair of the National Trust and those who fear it will damage a World Heritage Site.
While the arguments have raged between the two camps, both throughout the drawn-out planning process and since Wednesday's announcement, the community which will be the most impacted upon by the creation of the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa responded yesterday with a resounding welcome for the decision to proceed.
One word was used by every person we spoke to in the small Co Antrim town dubbed 'the gateway to the Causeway Coast' – jobs.
The developers of the resort say it will create 360 jobs in the area when completed.
It is hoped locals will also be able to take advantage of the employment opportunities in helping to construct it.
The town grew up around its world-famous distillery more than 400 years ago.
Residents see the new 365-acre resort – which will be situated a mile outside Bushmills in an area known as Runkerry – as its future lifeblood.
Leonard Greer, who is currently unemployed, said it was long overdue. When asked what he made of the decision, he replied: "Magic".
"Whoever is responsible for holding the thing up should be out of their jobs," he said.
"This will bring a lot of opportunities, jobs for people like me who have nothing here."
We heard the same response time and time again, many smiling when we mentioned the resort, followed by a thumbs-up.
Bushmills, like most towns in Northern Ireland, is struggling in the downturn. The community has put a brave face on it until now, with numerous vacant shops sporting painted facades showing the windows of the butchers, bakers and cafes which once occupied the centre of the town.
It is hoped the chipboard will no longer be required once the five-star, 120-bedroom hotel and accompanying facilities open.
Bob Hedley is chair of the Bushmills Forum which represents residents and traders. Mr Hedley said not only will the resort safeguard existing businesses, it should also lead to substantial investment from outside traders aiming to capitalise on the influx of tourists.
"Bushmills needs to start gearing up now for the future," he said. "It's not just about golf. It's employment."
Terry Dobbin, an estate agent in Bushmills, said he knew of no one in the area opposed to the plans. "Who wouldn't want a £100m investment on their doorstep?" he said.
Nevin Taggart, who runs a popular blog which has closely followed the long-running saga, said while the economic benefits of the resort were obvious, some residents were concerned by the possible impact on the Causeway's World Heritage status.
"There are an awful lot of ifs and buts at the moment," he said.