Published Wednesday, 27 June 2012
The sand dunes at Runkerry on the north coast. (© UTV)
A judge was told Mr Attwood believes he was right to back the development close to the Giants Causeway, but accepted that issues raised in a legal challenge by the National Trust need to be resolved as soon as possible.
With no opposition to the conservation charity's application for leave to seek a judicial review, the case is to proceed to a full hearing in November.
The 365-acre development at Runkerry, to be known as Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa, was given the go-ahead in February.
Along with a championship links golf course, the plans include a five-star 120-bedroom hotel and 75 villas.
However, the National Trust issued proceedings and stated the proposed complex is on land zoned in the draft Northern Area Plan as the distinctive landscape setting of the World Heritage Site in which no development should take place.
It said this was based on a recommendation by UNESCO - the body responsible for World Heritage designations - that there should be a buffer zone to protect the special landscape surrounding the Causeway.
Preliminary legal arguments were expected on Wednesday to decide whether the charity has an arguable case.
But counsel for the Minister indicated he wanted to avoid any further delay.
Paul McLaughlin told the court development proposals for the location have been under consideration for nearly 10 years.
He said: "In reaching his decision the Minister believes he has reached the correct decision and properly taken account of all the many interests - economic, ecological, environmental and social."
The barrister said that his client accepted there were issues of public importance "which he is content should be subject to public scrutiny."
He added: "At this stage his preference would be to move to a full hearing at the earliest opportunity."
Mr Justice Treacy, who is expected to hear the full challenge, granted leave to seek a judicial review.
He fixed the case for a four-day hearing beginning on 27 November.
In a statement issued afterwards, Mr Attwood insisted he made the planning decision after carefully considering all environmental and heritage issues, but also giving weight to the economic and tourism benefits.
He said: "I'm confident that the decision to grant planning permission was the right one.
"However, the issues cannot be properly dealt with at a leave hearing. I believe, therefore, that it's in the public interest to take a pragmatic stance to move to a full hearing without any further undue delay."
Mr Attwood also predicted: "I believe my decision will be upheld by the courts."
Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth is calling on Minister Attwood to revoke his decision to approve the resort.
The plea comes after UNESCO's World Heritage Committee requested that the UK Government halt the development until the impacts on the World Heritage Site can be fully assessed.
James Orr, Director of Friends of the Earth NI, described this latest development as "embarrassing" given that UNESCO's concerns over the protected landscape were known as far back as 2003.
The charity has previously likened the proposed development to "building a drive-through burger bar at the Taj Mahal."
Mr Orr said: "The World Heritage Committee is right to call for the proposed golf resort on the Causeway coast to be halted.
"The Giant's Causeway is Northern Ireland's only World Heritage Site and it would be very short-sighted of the Minister to risk losing it."