Belfast Telegraph

No 'smoking gun' of impropriety in £20m Causeway hotel planning, court hears

An artist’s impression of how the hotel complex will look once completed
An artist’s impression of how the hotel complex will look once completed

By Alan Erwin

No "smoking gun" of alleged improper motives around planning permission for a new £20 million hotel and leisure resort on the north coast has been uncovered, the High Court has heard.

A lawyer for the Chief Executive of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council hit back at suggestions pressure was applied to get the project on the north coast cleared.

North Antrim MLA Jim Allister and a neighbour are seeking to judicially review the decision to give the go-ahead to the proposed four-star complex near Portstewart.

Earlier in the proceedings an independent councillor who sat on the planning committee which approved the resort dramatically intervened to claim he had covertly recorded relevant conversations with officials.

Padraig McShane said he had amassed hours of material.

Based on those alleged conversations and emails, Mr Allister's legal team argued that hotel development was seen as key for the borough.

They contended that pressure was applied by Council Chief Executive David Jackson, claiming he was biased towards securing planning approval at all costs.

But in a detailed and emphatic response on Monday, a barrister for Mr Jackson insisted his conduct held up to close scrutiny.

Gerald Simpson QC: "Examination of his emails does not reveal any smoking gun.

"There's nothing which shows a chief executive acting in any way to try to circumvent planning policy; notwithstanding the exhaustive trawl through all the documents nothing has been found which was evidence of improper motive."

He claimed the case had been "infected" by "personal sideswipes" against his client.

According to Mr Simpson the allegations made by Mr McShane had been "embraced" in an attempt to criticise Mr Jackson - but without any supporting evidence.

Instead, he said, proceedings had been distorted in an attempt to construct a case against the council .

"Unfounded allegations made in court are protected by absolute privilege," he pointed out.

"But it behoves those who make them to take some care that there's some evidential basis for them, and there's no evidential basis for them at all."

Counsel for Mr Allister pointed out that Mr Jackson and other interested parties only became drawn into the case due to Mr McShane's unforeseen intervention midway through the case.

She also disputed any suggestion of an alleged conspiracy theory, stressing that no such reference featured in her client's challenge.

The case centres on plans for a 120-bedroom four-star hotel, spa, holiday cottages, conference facilities and restaurant being built on the Ballyreagh Road, beside the North West 200 paddock.

Permission was first given in June 2017, but withdrawn after Mr Allister initially threatened legal action.

The TUV leader recommenced proceedings when Council representatives passed the planning application for a second time last year.

His legal team claim the environmental screening process for the proposed coastal location was flawed.

They also contend that the Council used the wrong criteria, and should have considered the application under a policy for a larger-scale tourism attraction.

Reserving judgment following protracted legal arguments, Mr Justice McCloskey pledged to deliver his verdict by the autumn.

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