NI links approved after ten years

The site is less than two miles from the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction

A new links course in Northern Ireland has been granted planning consent after a ten year battle.

The Bushmills Dunes resort, located at Runkerry Bay, will be built near the village of the same name (and home to the world’s oldest licensed distillery), a few miles east of Royal Portrush. The site is close to the World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway. Opposition to the project has been led by the National Trust, the owner of the Causeway, which is Northern Ireland’s top tourist attraction, with more than 700,000 visitors each year.

Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood announced last year that he intended to expedite the decision making process on a number of planning applications that had been called in to the devolved government under Article 31 of the planning code. This deals with applications that are of national significance and involve a notable departure the local development plan. Now, Attwood has accepted the economic development case for the project.

Bushmills Dunes will be developed by a consortium headed by Dr Alistair Hanna, a New York-based businessman born in Northern Ireland. Hanna owns the nearby Ardtara country house hotel, and plans to build another 120 bedroom hotel and 75 villas as part of the resort development. He has agreed a 125 year lease on the 360 acre property. The project is valued at more than £100 million.

The course will be designed by David McLay Kidd’s practice. Kidd is alleged to have told Hanna: “If I can’t get your course into the world’s top 50 you should shoot me”. The resort’s building architect is Richard Hunter of the local firm R Robinson.

Attwood said: “The recent success of our golf champions has created an international interest in golfing opportunities in Northern Ireland and this ambitious development will provide a further stimulus. It will bring significant benefits to the North Coast in terms of tourism - creating new jobs and providing new accommodation and so provide a significant boost to the local economy.

“This has been a demanding decision and I have not taken it lightly. Before deciding, I wanted to ensure that I was fully aware of the environmental aspects of the proposal – the likely impact on the setting of the World Heritage Site at Giant’s Causeway, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the local wildlife – and so recently spent time at the site assessing it from a number of different vantage points including the system of sand dunes. I particularly interrogated the issues around World Heritage status, the role of the World Heritage Centre/UNESCO and the approach that may be taken by the WHC. I have acted with a high vigilance and challenging approach.

“I have carefully considered both sides of the argument but given the boost to tourism and the economy that the proposal will bring, I have decided to grant planning permission. To ensure that the environment is fully respected, my decision will be accompanied by stringent conditions which will mitigate the impacts of the development on the ecology of the site and the local landscape.”

Golf tourism is already a major contributor to the economy, generating over £14 million each year in the Portrush area. Tourism minister Arlene Foster said: “Today’s announcement will not only bring major economic benefits and much needed jobs to the north coast but it will also significantly boost our reputation as a golf destination in the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and in Europe.

“Over recent years, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has invested significantly to develop the Causeway Coastal Route and provide visitors with reasons to stay longer and spend more. Research has shown that links golf has substantial appeal to the higher spending North American and incentive visitor, who are a primary target market for resorts of this type. Developing another world class resort will allow us to further build on the Irish Open event in June and on the recent success of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, all of which is focusing huge attention on Northern Ireland as a golf destination.”

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