Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood has announced his decision to grant planning permission for the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa. The £100 million proposed development is expected to create 360 new jobs. It includes an 18-hole golf course and hotel and conference facility, and will be built close to Bushmills and Portballintrae on theNorth Antrimcoast.
Announcing his decision, the Minister said: “The recent success of our golf champions has created an international interest in golfing opportunities inNorthern Irelandand this ambitious development will provide a further stimulus. It will bring significant benefits to theNorthCoastin 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 (WHC)/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.
“The development is an important one for the Causeway Coast and for Northern Ireland, will help to grow tourism, create new job opportunities, enhance our golf product and continue to protect our natural heritage, such a big part of the quality of our lives.”
The application is for a proposed golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course, to be designed by David McLay Kidd, clubhouse, golf academy incorporating driving range, a 3-hole practice facility, 120 -bedroom hotel incorporating conference facilities & spa, 75 guest suites/lodges, and associated car parking, maintenance building and landscaping. It is to be built along the Whitepark Road and Causeway Road to the north of Bushmills and to the east of Portballintrae.
Tourism Minister welcomes decision
Golf tourism is already a major contributor to the economy, generating over £14 million each year in the Portrush area. The decision was warmly welcomed by Tourism Minister Arlene Foster who 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.
The development is being carried out by a consortium led by Dr Alistair Hanna, a New York-based businessman born inNorthern Ireland.
Dr 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 Bushmills Dunes project has been described as “very exciting” by Peter Alliss. “I’m always excited when a new project, a new course of quality, is about to happen,” he said.
“Because of various regulations over the years, opportunities to make a golf course in that kind of spectacular area are very few and far between.
“You’ve got some beautiful golf courses in that area. Will it take another one? Probably yes. If you look along the coast east ofEdinburghthere’s a gaggle of courses and in the last 10 or 12 years they’ve built two more right next door to Muirfield Golf Course.
“I thought they were mad. The economic decline came just after they started doing them so they have not become multi, multi-million pound successes, but they are successful. I think that could happen in Portrush.”
Devlopment may help Royal Portrush in bid to host The Open
Royal Portrush is to host this year’s Irish Open and is hopeful of attracting other big tournaments on the back of the success of Northern Irish golfers Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.
Royal Portrush captain Mr Tweedie said the development of a 120-bedroom hotel and 75 chalets at the Bushmills resort would undoubtedly strengthen the Open bid.
“It will help our case,” he said. “We have had the Royal and Ancient over to look at the road infrastructure, have been looking at hotels and looking at other private accommodation and thus far we have been able to accommodate what demand has come forward for the Irish Open.
“The Royal and Ancient I am quite sure are sitting watching to see how we perform at that event but another hotel, another 120 rooms plus the chalets, which will also provide accommodation should anything come in terms of the Open, can only be good.”
Mr Tweedie said the new accommodation would also ensure golf tourists stayed in the area, rather than just playing Royal Portrush during the day and heading elsewhere in Ireland or Scotland.
However the announcement has also met with opposition. “Building a golf course within sight of the Giants Causeway on the North Antrim coast is akin to constructing a drive-through burger bar near the Taj Mahal,” said a spokesman for Friends of the Earth.