A councillor has dramatically intervened in a legal challenge to approval for a £20m hotel and leisure complex on the north coast by making claims about recorded conversations with officials.
The High Court was also told Padraig McShane has contacted both the Attorney General and the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.
The development led to the adjournment of TUV leader Jim Allister’s case against Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council for giving the green light to the luxury accommodation facilities in Portstewart.
A judge directed that senior officials within the council should be sent Mr McShane’s statement and allowed to submit any evidence in response.
Mr Justice McCloskey said: “They are implicated in certain events and conversations that are described in the affidavit of Mr McShane.
“They plainly have sufficient interest in these proceedings to be given notice.”
A similar opportunity is to be given to the Council as a corporate body and an unnamed individual described as a “senior planner” in the independent councillor’s statement.
Mr McShane was a member of the planning committee who approved the proposed resort at the heart of the North West 200 race route earlier this year.
Plans include a 120-bedroom hotel, spa, holiday cottages, conference facilities and restaurant being built on the Ballyreagh Road.
Permission was first given in June 2017, but withdrawn after Mr Allister initially threatened legal action.
The North Antrim MLA, who has a home overlooking the development site, recommenced proceedings when Council representatives passed the planning application for a second time.
Another local resident in the surrounding area has joined him in seeking a judicial review.
In a challenge involving claims of a flawed environmental screening process and the wrong criteria being applied for the scale of the tourism attraction, Mr McShane’s intervention came at a midway point.
The court heard his sworn affidavit was sent to Attorney General’s Office and the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman last Friday.
Describing the turn of events as “highly unexpected”, Mr Justice McCloskey confirmed the case had to be put on hold.
He said Mr McShane’s statement raised a series of questions, and that issues around cross-examination could now feature.
“It’s feasible the court may be requested to make an order in respect of certain aspects of the contents of councillor McShane’s affidavit ... including references to recorded conversations and references to an unidentified person who is described as the senior planner,” the judge pointed out.
He added: “The possibility that other public authorities with their own statutory functions and responsibilities may become involved also clearly exists.”
Alan Kane QC, for Mr Allister, welcomed his comments.
“It goes to bring focus to these very serious matters which have arisen and requires investigation ,” the barrister said.
Mr McShane attended court but left without making comment.
Later, his solicitor, Michael Brentnall, said: “My client made the Attorney General’s Office and the Public Services Ombudsman aware of a number of alleged irregularities which relate to the conduct of parties within the council, connected to a matter presently before the High Court.
“As a result the Attorney General’s Office forwarded these allegations to the parties to the proceedings, which subsequently led to the case being adjourned.”