Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Causeway centre plan long overdue

It has been 10 long years since the visitor centre at Northern Ireland's premier tourist attraction the Giant's Causeway burned down.

However, at last a replacement facility is in sight. The National Trust has been given a £3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and building work could begin in a few weeks time, with completion scheduled for 2012.

More than 700,000 people visited the UNESCO World Heritage site last year, making a compelling case for an attractive and informative visitor centre.

However, the project has been delayed for far too long through a combination of bureaucracy, competing claims over parts of the site and a political row over an alternative development plan.

In 2007 a project by developer Seymour Sweeney seemed likely to be given the green light, but was later turned down.

The row set in motion a chain of events which eventually led to the resignation of Ian Paisley jnr from his junior ministerial post in the Executive. Mr Paisley and Mr Sweeney were deemed to have been closely associated.

Now that its chequered history is just that, visitors can look forward to a development which will enhance their trips to one of the natural wonders of the world. Northern Ireland needs to make the best of its natural assets - in which it is well blessed - in order to maximise its return from the tourist industry.

Positive publicity in recent years has boosted the number of people coming to the province and it is vital that their stay is as enjoyable as possible.

Word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool available to the tourist bodies. Sadly, those visiting the Giant's Causeway in recent years have had little to praise beyond the unique basalt columns.

In two years' time they should have a much better experience to relate to their friends.

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