Belfast Telegraph

Minister 'huffing' with Unesco over £100m Causeway golf resort: claim

BY LINDA STEWART

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has been accused of "going off in a huff" as his relationship with Unesco took a turn for the worse.

This week he said he would not be complying with calls from the international heritage body to halt a controversial £100m golf resort near the Giant's Causeway until his questions were answered.

It comes after Unesco sent an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) mission to our only World Heritage site in February, and later published a report critical of Northern Ireland's planning provisions, expressing concern over the lack of a buffer zone for the Giant's Causeway.

It called on the UK to halt the development, consider strengthening the planning framework, and asked for a conservation report on the Giant's Causeway and a copy of the environmental impact assessment for the Bushmills Dunes resort by February 1 next year.

This week Mr Durkan said he did not accept the validity of the report.

The DoE told the Belfast Telegraph it had no opportunity to put its side of the story across, as the terms of reference agreed ahead of the IUCN mission did not include the processing of the Bushmills Dunes development.

"These terms of reference were varied without the agreement of the department and instead, the report devotes a substantial part to criticising this planning decision, which has been endorsed by the courts here," a spokesperson said.

"Despite several requests, the IUCN has declined to provide a copy of the original report drafted by the IUCN mission expert or answer the department's questions requesting if anyone, beyond the IUCN mission expert, contributed to the drafting of the report."

The Alliance Party's Anna Lo said the Giant Causeway's World Heritage status could be put in jeopardy if the DoE didn't pay attention to Unesco's serious criticisms.

"To just go off in a huff and say it's outside the terms of reference of the investigation is just not helpful," she said. "Do something."

BACKGROUND

The £100m Bushmills Dunes resort would include an 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, golf academy and driving range, 120-bedroom hotel and 75 garden lodges at Runkerry. It was given the go-ahead despite running contrary to a series of planning policies. Unesco has called for a halt to the development until its impact can be assessed.

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