An artist's impression of how the visitors centre will look
A National Trust plan for an £18m visitor centre at the Giant's Causeway has been backed by Environment Minister Sammy Wilson.
Speaking at Stormont, Mr Wilson said that the public "rightly expects some clear direction" on the issue.
He said he "weighed up" all the options before picking the Trust's plan.
The Trust's director in NI, Hilary McGrady, said the decision meant the Giant's Causeway would "continue to be cared for for future generations".
The previous centre at the County Antrim World Heritage Site burned down in 2000 and a temporary building has been used since then.
Ms McGrady added that the Trust had, in December, passed the first stage in attaining £3m in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The centre could be open by 2011
"We have also submitted a business plan to support an application for £9.25m from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
"Subject to this funding being in place and tendering being completed, we hope to be on-site by the end of this year with the new visitor centre open in 2011," she said.
Mr Wilson said there could be no further delay on the provision of a centre, and that there had been an "unacceptably long period during which our top tourist attraction has been without a visitors' centre".
"Clearly this would not be in the public interest. Having considered all matters relevant to this case, I have authorised a Notice of Opinion to approve the National Trust application."
The National Trust submitted an application in June 2008 based on a design by the Dublin-based architects, Heneghan Peng, who won an International Design Competition for a visitors' centre in 2005.
It is envisaged that the Trust's centre will be open to the public by 2011.
An alternative plan from private developer Seymour Sweeney was turned down last year.
Mr Sweeney recently launched a court challenge against the DoE, over its handling of the two proposals.