Northern Ireland

National Trust defends challenge to course near Giant's Causeway

Dame Helen Ghosh
Image caption Dame Helen Ghosh said there was an important principle at stake

The head of the National Trust in the UK, Dame Helen Ghosh, has said the charity does not regret trying to block a major £100m golf resort development near the Giants Causeway.

The National Trust lost its legal challenge to try to have the planning permission revoked last week.

The trust's director general said she feared the landmark ruling could have an impact on the protection of other world heritage sites in the UK.

After seven years of planning, the developers behind the golf course and hotel complex finally aim to begin building the first part of the exclusive resort in the autumn.

Last week, they overcame a major hurdle when a judge threw out a legal challenge brought by the National Trust, which was attempting to overturn the planning approval and have the development blocked.

After losing the legal challenge, the trust was heavily criticised in some quarters for bringing the case, Dame Helen defended the legal challenge, saying there was an important principle at stake.

"The purpose of the trust, the charity I lead, is to look after special places for everyone... so we don't for one moment regret bringing the judicial review and we don't believe that it has damaged the reputation of the National Trust," she said.

"Indeed, we believe that most of our members, who after all believe in what we believe in, would support our attempts to protect this very special place."

In spite of losing the case, the director general, who was on her first visit to the Causeway, insisted the case was a good use of trust funds, but declined to say if it intended to appeal the decision.

By allowing the development of the golf course in the footprint of the UNESCO designated World Heritage site, Dame Helen said the Belfast judgement could have important implications for the protection of other world heritage sites across the UK.

Image caption The planned course is close to the Giant's Causeway

"What we would be concerned about is, as we are in all our historic properties or in relation to our precious landscapes, is that the planning system will protect them," she said.

"And in this instance it looks as though, on the basis of the comments the judge made in court, that even world heritage sites which are enormously valued by local people and by the country as a whole, would not get the protection I think people would expect them to get."

The amount in costs the trust will end up paying after losing the landmark judicial review still has to decided.

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