Monday, March 03, 2008
Government environment advisers feared the Giant's Causeway would be placed on a world heritage at risk list if visitor centre proposals tabled by developer Seymour Sweeney were approved, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.
The warning was sounded last December by a senior official in the DoE's Environment and Heritage Service (EHS).
It came as Minister Arlene Foster was finalising her decision on Mr Sweeney's application for a new private sector centre building at Northern Ireland's only Unesco world heritage site.
Mrs Foster revealed to the Assembly in January that she was refusing permission, reversing her earlier position of being " of a mind" to approve.
Mr Sweeney is to challenge her decision through a hearing at the independent Planning Appeals Commission.
The EHS concerns about the Causeway's world heritage site status were conveyed in a high-level memo to colleagues in the DoE's planning service.
It has been made publicly available as part of the open planning file on the application from Mr Sweeney's firm, Seaport Investments.
Written by EHS's Director of Natural Heritage, Graham Seymour, the memo outlined the ground rules established by United Nations body Unesco for development close to the Causeway.
Unesco is responsible for the historic north Antrim attraction's world heritage classification.
Mr Seymour's memo noted that the National Trust and Moyle Council had ruled out removing their existing visitor facilities above the Causeway.
He said Unesco was likely to take a "critical" view of a doubling of building "footprint" in the area.
"EHS therefore considers that there is a high risk of the Giant's Causeway world heritage site being placed on the list of sites in danger if the planning application from Seaport Investments Ltd is given approval," the senior official stated.
Mr Sweeney has repeatedly dismissed claims that his plans would jeopardise the Causeway's world heritage status.
He has argued that his blueprint offers the opportunity to replace the existing ridgeline buildings with a centre down the hill.
The developer's long-time supporter, DUP MLA Ian Paisley, last September argued claims about the world heritage classification risk were "blackmail" and " rubbish".
The environment minister decided that the Seaport project would have an "adverse impact" on the world heritage site as it could "adversely affect the character of the area".
Full story here.