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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 14:57 GMT
Fears for future of Causeway
Over 500,000 people visit the causeway every year
Over 500,000 people visit the causeway every year
Concern has been expressed about the future of the visitors' centre at the world famous Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

It comes after Moyle District Council scrapped plans to sell off the County Antrim centre in the face of two multi-million pound re-development projects.

The assembly's environment committee is meeting at Stormont to discuss the situation at the World Heritage attraction.

Committee chairman the Reverend William McCrea said the present situation was "unacceptable" and action had to be taken.

It would appear that Moyle have taken this decision against all professional advice

Seaport Development Ltd

"We cannot instruct a council and tell them exactly how to handle their property," he said.

"What I want to ensure is that the situation does not ride there, where we are left with a sub-standard facility in a world-standard amenity."

Moyle Council met on Tuesday evening 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 at the site last April.

Though fully insured, a proper replacement building would have to be much bigger to cope with an estimated 500,000 visitors each year.

But 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 which is at the entrance to the Giant's Causeway, on the market.

'Under resourced'

But behind closed doors in council chambers, bids from a private developer, Seaport Investments Ltd, and the National Trust failed to be considered.

In a statement on Thursday, Seaport said it was disappointed the council had "opted to stop the sale".

"It would appear that Moyle have taken this decision against all professional advice," the statement said.

Burnt shell of Causeway Centre
The previous centre was destroyed by fire in 2000

"It is even more alarming that the site has been taken off the market given that Moyle have no alternative redevelopment scheme. "

It said Seaport's proposal would have created 250 jobs.

"Moyle District Council and the ratepayers have lost the opportunity to bank in excess of 5m which could have been of enormous benefit to the whole community."

It added: "It is a fact that the Giant's Causeway must have a visitor centre commensurate with the site's global importance and now the council is tasked with finding the money to build it.

"Given the support and interest in Seaport's plans to date, we would be prepared to enter into discussions with the council and other interested parties once they have made a decision as to the way forward."

Following Tuesday's meeting, council chairman Randal McDonnell, said the situation was "a mess" and there were no visible means of solving it.

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.

Last month, the National Trust, which owns the natural stone phenomenon, revealed details of its plans for a state-of-the-art visitor centre with a price tag of between 8m and 10m.

See also:

22 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Row over Giant's Causeway pub plan
30 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Investigation into Causeway blaze
05 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway plan scrapped
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