MLA raises new fears for future of Giant's Causeway World Heritage Status
A war of words has broken out over the Giant's Causeway after an Assembly Member claimed the World Heritage Status of the global tourist attraction could be under threat.
Environment committee chairwoman Anna Lo said Northern Ireland needed to improve its planning system to provide proper protection for the site.
The South Belfast MLA also accused Environment Minister Alex Attwood of not seeking the views of Unesco – which grants World Heritage Status on sites – before giving planning permission for the Runkerry golf course near the famous landmark.
But the DoE hit back at Ms Lo in a strongly-worded statement that accused her of getting the issue "badly wrong".
"It would be better for Ms Lo to ask questions rather than jump into judgment," a spokesman said.
He said Unesco had been advised of the golf course planning application in February 2010 when the UK submitted a State of Conservation report.
"The DoE formally inquired whether any further action was required in light of the report. We were advised that further reporting was only required if Unesco considered that there were "serious issues" arising from the report. What happened? Radio silence from Unesco. So DoE expressly asked what was Unesco's view. Unesco had nothing to say."
MLAs will gather at Stormont on Monday to debate the Planning Bill, which aims to speed reforms and modernise the planning system before powers are transferred to councils in 2015.
The Bill has already been at the centre of controversy, with 5,000 people signing an 'Amend the Bill' petition calling for the removal of two proposed clauses that emphasise economic considerations.
Ms Lo now intends to submit a number of amendments, including one that would give extra protection to the Giant's Causeway's World Heritage Status.
"This is our main tourist attraction, yet its status has been put in danger by this decision. It beggars belief that the minister did not seek to give protection to the Giant's Causeway's World Heritage Status," Ms Lo said.
"I have submitted this amendment because our planning laws are not strong enough to protect the Giant's Causeway.
"I fear the Giant's Causeway may lose World Heritage Status."
"It beggars belief that the minister did not seek to give protection to the Giant's Causeway's World Heritage Status. I have submitted this amendment because our planning laws are not strong enough to protect the World Heritage Status of the Giant's Causeway."
Anna Lo MLA