Graham hopes Bushmills golf course gets go-ahead

A MOYLE councillor hopes planning permission can be secured for a multi-million pounds scheme to bring a major golf course and eco-hotel to the Bushmills area.

Ulster Unionist representative Willie Graham was speaking as government minister Alex Attwood said he will make a decision on the matter before the end of the year.

Cllr Graham said: “I’m delighted that the authorities are considering this and that they are going to probably go for it. It will be great for the district and will bring something like 300 jobs.

“It will bring a lot of prosperity to this corner of north Antrim,” he said.

The proposal is for the Runkerry resort, which will include an 18-hole championship golf course and a 120-room hotel.

It has been in the pipeline for several years but now Environment Minister Alex Attwood said the time has come for a decision to be made.

Last week he pledged to announce the decision with the next ten weeks.

The proposed site is at the junction of the Whitepark and Causeway Road, close to Bushmills.

As well as a links golf course and hotel, the development will include a clubhouse, golf academy, conference facilities and a spa.

Ballymoney architects, R Robinson and Sons, say it will be Northern Ireland’s first eco-sustainable hotel resort.

Its design includes green roofs, semi-transparent light absorbing photo-voltaic panels that harness solar energy, geo-thermal heating, rainwater recycling and a system of natural lighting and ventilation that reduces the consumption of artificial energy.

Developer Alistair Hanna originally submitted a planning application in 2007.

Mr Attwood said: “Three weeks ago I instructed planning officials to bring forward papers on the planning application at Runkerry and to do so by the end of November.

“It is my view that all issues around this application have been, or are being, exhaustively interrogated.

“It is time to make a decision. I plan to do so. I will carefully and fully weigh all factors – environmental, World Heritage Status at the Giant’s Causeway, economic benefit and others - in making the decision.

“If there are other applications in the planning system with significant economic benefits and which have also suffered from delay or doubt, that need to be determined and are capable of being determined, I plan to do so.

“Officials have also been assessing all Article 31 applications to identify how to best move them forward.

“This is part of the picture of making planning fully responsive to economic demands.

“This will be instrumental to the further speeding up of the planning system, so that applicants, crucially for major economic projects, know as early as possible if there is a green or red light.”

It is understood there are calls for the government to ‘cash in’ on the recent success of Northern Irish golfers Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

But The National Trust opposes the Bushmills plans, which it says could threaten the UNESCO world heritage status of the Giant’s Causeway.

The plans are supported by all of Northern Ireland’s main political parties, and it is claimed that the project could inject up to £90 million into the local economy.

MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley Jr claimed it was a “national scandal” that the application has been delayed for so long by planning officials.

He said that the resort would be a “tourism gem”.

The minister for Trade, Enterprise and Investment, Arlene Foster, said: “The spotlight has very much come on Northern Ireland in respect of golf tourism and even without those three champions I believe there was a need for a golf resort along the north coast.

“There is a need for better accommodation and more accommodation on the north coast, and as economy minister and as tourist minister, I believe that’s what should happen.”

However, the National Trust has long taken a stand against the project, and warns that a desire to boost the economy should not come at the expense of the environment.

A spokesperson for the Trust said: “[The proposal] is in an area that is already protected and should remain protected. People come to Northern Ireland because the landscape is so beautiful.

“We shouldn’t be developing on places that is inappropriate.”