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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Developer set to get Causeway nod
Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway is Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction
Environment Minister Arlene Foster is set to back a privately funded proposal for a visitor centre at Northern Ireland's top tourist attraction.

In a statement she said she was "of a mind to approve" the private sector scheme, and would make a formal decision at the earliest opportunity.

The previous visitor centre on the site burned down in April 2000.

Tourism Minister Nigel Dodd said his department would drop its rival plans for the site.

He said his department had been involved as "a potential developer of last resort".

"This was at the request of the key stakeholders who were unable, over an extended period of time, to reach agreement," he said.

"It would not be a prudent use of taxpayers' money to proceed further in the circumstances, given Minister Foster's position on the private sector planning application. The DETI/NITB project would cost in excess of 21m."

The Causeway attracts nearly 500,000 visitors a year.

Renowned for its polygonal columns of layered basalt - resulting from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago - it is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland.

Ms Foster said she had visited the site and there was considerable merit to the Seaport Investments Ltd plan for a new Visitor and Study Centre at the site.

"I have asked my officials to engage with the developer and key local stakeholders on some aspects of the proposal so that I can make a formal decision on it at the earliest opportunity," she said.

The assembly is due to debate the issue on Tuesday.

BBC NI's Martin Cassidy speaking about the proposal

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