Page last updated at 06:50 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Giant's Causeway gets 'landmark' 3m lottery grant

Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway is one of Northern Ireland's most popular spots

The new Giant's Causeway visitors' centre is to finally go ahead following a £3m lottery grant.

After years of delays and wrangling, construction is due to start at the site - one of Northern Ireland's most popular tourist attractions.

The Heritage Lottery Fund money will go towards an £18.5m revamp of facilities, including a new visitors' centre.

The National Trust, which oversees the site, also plans to improve paths and protect the 3km stretch of coastline.

The Trust's Northern Ireland director Hilary McGrady said it was a "landmark announcement" and the grant would ensure the causeway would "truly be sustained, transformed and forever treasured".

Legend has it the Irish giant Finn McCool built the causeway - now a World Heritage Site - to cross the sea and fight a Scottish rival.

As well as a new centre, the plans for the north Antrim coastal site also include:

  • Visitor guides and live storytelling to educate tourists about the area's history, geology and biodiversity;
  • The creation of new trails and improved maintenance of existing paths, which are vulnerable to erosion;
  • The recruitment of up to 100 local volunteers as "welcome hosts", storytellers, wardens and support staff.

As well as the £3m lottery grant, extra funding is currently being discussed with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

The Trust has donated £4m toward the project and has also set a fundraising target of £2.25m from the Trust's "A Giant Cause" charity campaign.

The visitors' centre, due to be completed in 2012, was designed by Dublin architects Heneghan Peng, and will be hidden from the coastal landscape by a grass roof.

Artist's impression of visitors centre
An artist's impression of how the visitor centre may look

It will have environmental features such as water-permeable paving, natural lighting and rainwater harvesting.

The decision to go ahead with the centre follows years of controversy after the original visitors' centre burned down in 2000.

In 2007, NI's then Environment Minister, Arlene Foster of the DUP, announced she was minded to let property developer Seymour Sweeney's company Seaport Investments Ltd build the centre.

But hat decision was reversed months later.

In January 2009, Mrs Foster's ministerial successor Sammy Wilson gave approval to the National Trust's £18.5m plan for new facilities.

In May 2009, Mr Sweeney dropped a legal challenge to the government's handling of rival bids to build the centre, which cleared the way for work to begin on the National Trust's plans.

The Giant's Causeway's unique rock formations of rugged symmetrical columns have, for millions of years, stood as a natural rampart against the ferocity of Atlantic storms.

The 'discovery' of the causeway was announced in a paper to the Royal Society in 1693.

At that time, there was furious debate over whether the causeway had been created by men with picks and chisels, by nature, or by the efforts of a legendary giant.

Scientists now agree the naturally-formed patterns of rock were formed 65 million years ago by volcanic activity.



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SEE ALSO
Ireland's 'eighth wonder of world'
22 Jan 10 |  Northern Ireland
Causeway project designer named
02 Sep 09 |  Northern Ireland
Ireland's very own 'Northern Rock'
05 Aug 09 |  Northern Ireland
Developer ends Causeway challenge
19 May 09 |  Northern Ireland
Go-ahead for 18m Causeway centre
27 Jan 09 |  Northern Ireland
6m for Giant's Causeway project
12 Jun 08 |  Northern Ireland
Rising sea 'a threat to Causeway'
22 Jan 08 |  Northern Ireland

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