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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 20:07 GMT
Giant's Causeway plan scrapped
New Giant's Causeway Centre
An artist's impression of the rejected plan
Plans have been scrapped to sell off the visitors' centre at the world famous Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Councillors on Moyle District Council met on Tuesday to consider two multi-million pound projects to redevelop the nine acre site.

They had been in a quandary over the centre even before a fire destroyed the old permanent building there last year.

Though fully insured, a proper replacement building was going to have to be much bigger to cope with an ever increasing number of tourists.

Very considerable time and finances have been expended on a very serious multi-million pound bid

Ruth Laird

National Trust

The council decided financing such a scheme by itself was impossible and no grants were available.

In July, the council opted to put the site at the entrance to the Giant's Causeway on the market.

'Under resourced'

But behind closed doors in council chambers, multi-million pound bids from both a private developer and the National Trust failed to be considered.

However, the site still needs a larger visitors' centre at the World Heritage attraction.

Chairman of the council, independent councillor Randal McDonnell, said it was under resourced and could not provide anything on the scale set out in the proposals.
Burnt shell of Causeway Centre
The previous centre was destroyed by fire in 2000

"We spent the whole year marketing this particular asset, we received proposals from the two bidders about a month ago, we have had a month to consider it since and last night all of a sudden we have reversed the decision to sell," he said.

Mr McDonnell said it was "a mess" and there were no visible means of solving the problem.

Government agencies

Ruth Laird, the director of the National Trust for Northern Ireland, said she was surprised and concerned the future of the centre was not secured.

"Very considerable time and finances have been expended on a very serious multi-million pound bid," she said.

She said there needed to be "a 21st century solution to the problem" and that the Northern Ireland Executive and government agencies needed to be involved.

In a statement, the National Trust added that they were "pleased the site will remain in public ownership instead of being sold on the commercial market".

It added that they wanted government departments and statutory agencies to be involved in helping to map out the future "of our most valuable tourism arrest".

Last month, the National Trust revealed details of its plans for a state-of-the-art visitor centre.

The previous centre was destroyed by a fire in April 2000.

The Trust's plan for the new centre had a price tag of between 8m and 10m.

The National Trust owns the natural stone phenomenon.

Job creation

A row broke out earlier this year, when plans to transform a cottage just yards from the entrance to the Giant's Causeway into a public house were proposed.

The unique sprawl of hexagonal basalt columns that make up the Giant's Causeway, was formed when lava broke through the earth's crust 60 million years ago and cooled as it hit the sea.

It was expected the new centre would support and create about 200 jobs in Moyle district and the wider north coast area.

The World Heritage site attracts nearly 500,000 visitors a year.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Jeremy Mitchell reports:
"The future of the visitor centre at Northern Ireland's most popular attraction is still unsure"
See also:

22 Jun 01 | N Ireland
30 Apr 00 | N Ireland
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