Published Thursday, 28 February 2013
On Wednesday, Mr Justice Weatherup dismissed a legal challenge lodged by the National Trust and endorsed the initial planning application more than a decade after it was lodged.
The planned 365-acre development at Runkerry, to be known as Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa, now has the green light.
"We're very pleased that things have worked out how they have," said US-based Northern Ireland man Dr Alistair Hanna, one of the developers on the site.
"We're looking forward to getting this project off the ground."
Along with a championship links golf course, the blueprint for Runkerry includes a five-star 120-bedroom hotel and 75 villas - with claims that the proposals could create around 360 jobs and a further 300 through suppliers and construction.
Most people are very enthusiastic and those who I've spoken to say they're excited
Dr Alistair Hanna
Mr Hanna said he hopes the course and hotel will be ready by 2015, and expects it to make the region an essential destination for golf enthusiasts.
"Newcastle has the Slieve Donard and Royal Co Down, we're trying to produce an equivalent product that will work well with the existing courses at Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock, and I think when you put those four together it will be a very enticing package for anyone thinking about going on a golf holiday," he said.
"When we were over for the Irish Open, 90% of people we talked to said they think it's very advantageous to the area, merchants who are struggling feel it can be a lifeline for them."
The Trust had attempted to block planning approval for the site by Environment Minister Alex Attwood, stating he had acted unreasonably and irrationally.
Their legal bid was based on the argument that a body responsible for granting World Heritage Site status, UNESCO, was not properly consulted on the project.
The charity argued a UNESCO recommendation stated there should be a buffer zone to protect the special landscape surrounding the Causeway.
But Mr Justice Weatherup backed a counter submission by the Department of the Environment that World Heritage convention guidelines have no standing in UK law.
After dismissing the Trust's argument on the UNESCO point, the judge threw out further arguments on the potential impact on the environment, wildlife and plant species.
Attention will now turn to where the money to fund the project will come from, however Mr Hanna says he is confident that won't be an issue.
He said: "We don't need to raise £100m tomorrow, we need to raise £100m to finish the full project and if it turns out to be a real must-play course I think the money will come."
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