Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Causeway base just isn't getting any closer

The delivery of a Giant's Causeway visitor centre does not seem that much closer today, despite the events of the last two weeks.

Arlene Foster has, of course, indicated that she is minded to approve Seymour Sweeney's commercial centre application for Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction.

But objectors will be making last-ditch efforts to make the Minister re-think her position.

If they fail, a judicial review challenge will still be open to them.

Mr Sweeney's application is for "outline" permission, which means he will still have planning hurdles ahead of him even if he is given the ministerial go- ahead.

Mrs Foster and her department continue to have questions to answer, particularly while the advice she received from her Planning Service officials in connection with the application remains unpublished.

UNESCO's wishes for the Causeway were reiterated this week - involving a visitor centre on the same site as before with the same dimensions as its predecessor, which burnt down in April, 2000.

That runs contrary to the Sweeney blueprint for a significantly larger development on his own land.

The DoE will, presumably, want to keep UNESCO on board given its power over the Causeway's World Heritage site status.

The Assembly's Environment Committee has been told that detailed engagement between UNESCO and the Department has yet to take place.

It does not look like it will be an easy process.

Then there is the parking question.

Mr Sweeney's plans - seemingly on the brink of approval - involve 200 parking spaces.

But those behind the public sector visitor centre scheme were told that 400 spaces would be needed to secure planning approval.

Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds insisted to MLAs on Tuesday that the public sector scheme was on hold rather than "dumped".

But Mr Dodds did tell the Assembly last week that the Government "will no longer be the developer of a new visitors' centre".

And his party colleague, Sammy Wilson, declared that Ministers were "delivering" .

It may not be as simple as that, just yet.

Critics have claimed that, with complications like a possible judicial review and potential UNESCO objections, the whole visitor centre project may actually be put back further.

That is a nightmare scenario for DUP Ministers.

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