Amend the Planning Bill – news from Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has stunning special places: the cliffs and beaches of the North Coast, Fermanagh’s lakelands, the Mountains of Mourne, the Sperrins, cities like Belfast and Derry with their fine architecture and the country’s only World Heritage Site – the Giant’s Causeway.

Such places could be under threat from a Planning Bill which is currently going through the Northern Ireland Assembly. Together with other a range of organisations, we are supporting the ‘Amend the Bill’ campaign to call for politicians to make changes to protect some of the country’s most special places for generations to come; and to deliver a better planning system for everyone.

Amend the bill header

So far more than 4800 messages of support have been sent to politicians across Northern Ireland.

Heather Thompson, National Trust director for Northern Ireland said: “The Planning Bill contains two clauses which focus on economic development which could result in planning applications which aren’t in the best interests of communities and the environment, being approved. We should all welcome the introduction of a more effective system of planning. However we need one that ensures a fair and balanced approach to economic, environmental and social issues, and supports economic development which takes all three into account.

“The Bill also presents an ideal opportunity to bring in protection for World Heritage Sites and their settings in Northern Ireland, which includes the Giant’s Causeway and the countryside immediately around it.

“With the Bill currently in front of the Northern Assembly, it is vital that people speak up now in order to protect our special places for everyone that enjoys them today as well as future generations.”

The Planning Bill reaches an important milestone when it goes to Consideration Stage on 24 June 2013. At this point it is debated on the floor of the NI Assembly.

You can join the discussion on Facebook at and follow us on twitter at @AmendTheBill. There is also a campaign blog with more detailed information at

Residents from outside of Northern Ireland can also register their support by emailing

An online tool has been set up for NI residents at (a NI postcode is needed to use this tool)

National Trust bitterly disappointed at court ruling on Giant’s Causeway development

We’ve posted previously on our legal challenge to a decision to grant planing permission for a golf course development in the setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. Today the High Court ruled against our challenge.

A National Trust spokesman said:

“The National Trust is bitterly disappointed by the Court’s ruling and we remain convinced that a massive development in the setting of this World Heritage Site is wrong.

“We still believe that if a development of this scale does go ahead in this location, the message is that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how important or protected, is safe from development.

“The ruling today has served to highlight aspects of very serious concern for those partners involved in the care and protection of the World Heritage Site.

“It is essential that we work together to get planning policy right in Northern Ireland to ensure that appropriate development can happen, but not at the expense of our beautiful landscapes and historic places. 

“There are also significant issues regarding the relationship between Government in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and UNESCO that must be addressed to ensure the protection of our World Heritage Site for the long term.”


Runkerry Golf Development – Judicial Review

The National Trust goes to the High Court in Belfast, 9-11 January 2013, to challenge through judicial review the granting of planning permission for a golf resort at Runkerry. This significant development is in the identified setting of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland’s only such site.

In 2007, an application for a proposed golf resort was submitted to the Department of Environment,  Planning Service.

The applicant Mr Alistair Hanna, is a former resident of Northern Ireland, now residing in America.

The application is for a proposed golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, golf academy incorporating driving range, a 3-hole practice facility, 120 bedroom hotel incorporating conference facilities and spa, 75 guest suites/lodges, and associated car parking, maintenance building and landscaping. The proposed development is to be built along the Whitepark Road and Causeway Road to the north of Bushmills and to the east of Portballintrae, County Antrim.

The application was designated one of major importance under Article 31 of the Planning (NI) order on 13 June 2007.

In 2011, Minister Attwood was appointed Minister for the Environment. He announced his intention to expedite outstanding planning applications and clear the backlog to reinvigorate the regional economy.

On 21 February 2012, Minister Attwood announced that after due consideration he intended to approve the Bushmills Dunes planning application. Planning permission was formally granted on 29 March 2012.

The Trust expressed its disappointment at the decision, confirming that it had consistently opposed the planning application, reiterating its serious concerns about the impact on the landscape, the environmental impacts, and the potential threat to the World Heritage Site designation.

The National Trust was granted leave for a judicial review on 27 June 2012.

The judicial review is timetabled for 3 days, running in the High Court in Belfast from 9-11 January 2013. The outcome of the hearing will be known later in the year.

In December, we wrote to our 60,000 Northern Ireland members explaining this significant development is in the identified setting of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland’s only such site. We told members:

‘World Heritage Site status is the highest conservation and heritage accolade that any place can achieve, and is awarded by the international body, UNESCO. The land on which this would be built has been identified in the draft Northern Area plan as an area that should be protected and where such development should not take place. This is based on the strong recommendation from UNESCO that there should be a buffer zone to protect the landscape that surrounds this World Heritage Site. In July 2012, UNESCO formally requested the Government to ‘halt the proposed development ….until its impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site property has been assessed.’

‘As the guardians of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site, we have a duty to care for it for ever. This is the context in which we have taken this judicial review.

‘The Giant’s Causeway is known and loved globally, positioning Northern Ireland on the world stage. It is fundamental to the local economy. We believe that such a development in this protected landscape is wrong – once it’s gone it’s gone. If this development is allowed to proceed in this special place, then the message is being despatched that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how special or protected, is safe from development.’

There’s a useful timeline on the Trust’s care for the Giant’s Causeway here.

Update: timeline link added Friday 11 January 2012.

Note: As we’re in an important stage of this legal process we can’t comment on the particulars of the case so comments have been disabled for this post.

Review completed at Giant’s Causeway visitor centre

The National Trust opened the new £18.5million Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre less than three months ago. In this short period the World Heritage Site has already welcomed 250,000 visitors from 130 countries, including over 90,000 from Northern Ireland. 

Inside the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre. Credit Peter Nash

Upon opening, one small piece of interpretation section evoked a wide and mixed response. As a result, on 18 July the conservation charity committed to undertake a review of this particular section

Having taken on board a wide range of feedback, and commissioned interpretive specialists to develop a suitable reflective piece, the National Trust has now amended the existing exhibit. 

A new piece of audio, approximately 20 seconds in length, replaces the previous recording and makes the Trust’s views completely clear.

Graham Thompson, Project Director for the Giant’s Causeway, said: “This change will help clear up any misunderstanding there may have been. 

“The National Trust only endorses the scientific explanation of the origins of the stones yet recognises that others have alternative beliefs.

“The National Trust is content that this review is complete and thank all for their feedback on the matter.”


The amended transcript can be viewed below within the Debating Characters section. See the previous transcript here.

Column 1 – Stone or Giant Fossil? : Thomas Molyneux & St. George Ashe

Ah, so you’d like to know my opinion on the matter? Thomas Molyneux is the name, State Physician of Ireland my calling.

I made a long study of the Causeway, this wonder of creation, and the first thing to say is that it has nothing to do whatsoever with ancient myths and legends and so forth – superstitious nonsense!

I believe what we have here is simply basalt rock; now hours of study through my lens show no signs of fossils in the stones… whatever others may have to say on the matter… and whoever those others may be – these ridiculous letters aren’t even signed!

Oh, come now, Dr. Molyneux! I do not admit to writing any letters, but I shall freely confess to being St. George Ashe, Bishop of Cloyne, and to believing firmly that the fossils are not in the stones – they are the stones themselves!

The shape of the columns tells me that they are the stems of huge, fossilized sea creatures – mighty relatives of the little Entrochus fossils that the dedicated searcher may sometimes find along the coast.

Preposterous, old friend! One might as well talk of fairies and giants!

Tcha! We’ll see, Dr. Molyneux – we’ll see!

Column 2 – Forged in fire or born in water? : Nicholas Demarest & Abraham Werner

Bonjour! Nicolas Desmarest at your service! And so you are interested in knowing how the great stones were created, n’est-ce pas? Bien! Amateur I may be, but I am still a man of science. And, whatever Abraham Werner says, the Causeway is exactement like the volcanic stones in the Auvergne in France. 

No, no, no, you say volcanic – I say it is…

Thank you, Herr Werner, but you will permit me to finish, s’il vous plaît! Ahem! I have observed this old lava again and again and everywhere in it – voilà! Columns. In the Giant’s Causeway, these same columns are proof of an old volcano. Werner may be a mining expert – but when it comes to geology…

…when it comes to geology, I am Teacher of Mining and Mineralogy at the Freiberg Mining Academy und NOT un amateur! I visited the most famous basaltic hill in Saxony, near Stolpen, in person, and it is not a volcano! More – there is no volcano anywhere near it! Earth’s waters, not its fires, created its rocks!

Bof! Mon dieu. Ignore Herr Werner! I myself have seen ancient lava that has flowed over great distances! You must search far to find its source – so perhaps this area, too, was once flooded with lava and…

Nein, Monsieur Desmarest! Nein, nein, nein!

Mon Dieu, ces Allemands! This is the 18th Century, n’est-ce pas?!?!

Column 3 – An Ancient Earth or a New Creation? : James Hutton and Dr Richardson

Now see here, I am deeply concerned that…oh I do beg your pardon. My name is Richardson – the Reverend Doctor William Richardson. Rector of Clonfeacle.

I am a keen naturalist, so I have every sympathy for open-minded scientific enquiry. But as I say, I am deeply concerned that Mr. Hutton may mislead you with his theories on the age of the Earth.

We know from the Bible that the Earth is 6,000 years old! One has merely to count the generations between Adam and the birth of Our Lord. And for all his eminence as a geologist, and his standing with the Royal Society in Edinburgh, that makes Mr. Hutton’s theory nonsense!

Now, now Dr. Richardson, I am well aware that my theory is challenging…upsetting to many…I myself find it dizzying…yet when I look at the evidence, at the slow and steady volcanic formation of rocks – occurring even as we speak! – I am driven to believe that 6,000 years is a mere blink in the life of the Earth – I see no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end!

Well, I shall return to Antrim once more, Mr. Hutton! I am sure I shall find proof there that all rocks are formed under the sea – and put an end to your theory of an ancient Earth!

Indeed? Well I wish you luck, sir…

Column 4 – Bamboo? : Captain Morton

Ah, good day to you! Morton’s the name – Captain Charles Morton, Royal Navy. So – want to know the real truth as to the origins of the Giant’s Causeway stones, do you?

It seems to me that anybody who’d sailed with me would have a better chance of understanding their origins than these landsmen who sit and read their books.

As for me, well, the logs will show that I served Her Majesty Queen Victoria long enough in the tropics to recognize bamboo when I see it!

The long, narrow stems – the occasional joints on the columns – why, any Jamaica Station hand would know this for bamboo.

Giant bamboo, yes, as befits the age of dinosaurs – but fossilized bamboo it must be and is!

(Chorus of laughs)

Quiet there! Quiet on deck, I say!

Column 5 – A Special Place

Today there is a clear understanding among scientists that the heat of the earth was the driving force behind the formation of the Giant’s Causeway – and that the earth is far older than had previously been thought. James Hutton suggested this back in 1785; modern geologists agree with him.

All the scientific evidence points to a volcanic origin for the columns of the Giant’s Causeway, around 60 million years ago.

However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view.  There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently: thousands of years ago rather than billions.

The National Trust supports the scientific view of the formation of the Giant’s Causeway.  We are proud to be the guardians of such a special place – one that has played an important role in our understanding of the world around us.

For further information on this exhibit, please speak to a Ranger.


Prime Minister visits new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre

Prime Minister David Cameron and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, today visited Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway, and its new state-of-the-art visitor centre which opened to the public last month. 

The Prime Minister’s visit is part of a tour of the UK to mark the Olympic celebrations and to show how he wants the whole country to seize this opportunity to showcase everything the UK has to offer.

The Giant’s Causeway featured as part of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with a local children’s choir singing on the stones which was beamed to more than one billion people all around the world. 

The Olympic torch also visited the Giant’s Causeway as part of the torch relay.

The new visitor centre, designed by Dublin architects heneghan peng, has been sympathetically and sustainably designed to sit seamlessly within the landscape.  

It features an illuminating exhibition showcasing the stories and the science behind the Giant’s Causeway.

The Prime Minister said: “We are at the start of a momentous few weeks for the United Kingdom, weeks that will see awe-inspiring sporting performances, provide some incredible memories and see history in the making.

“So now, with the eyes of the world upon us, I want to see us make the very most of hosting these Games and to make sure we seize every single opportunity to showcase the whole country.

“The iconic and breathtaking Giant’s Causeway draws visitors from across the globe and is an excellent example of the many reasons to visit Northern Ireland.”

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister here to Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway today.  Whether it’s spectacular sport and new heroes inspiring young people to get active.  Whether its business demonstrating their capabilities and building new contacts and winning new opportunities to invest.  Or the benefits to tourism of showing off our stunning country rich in history and culture, we want Northern Ireland to benefit with the whole country from the legacy of hosting London 2012.”

Heather Thompson, National Trust Director for Northern Ireland, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and Secretary of State to Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and to show them around our sustainably designed visitor centre – the new gateway to this iconic site.    

“It was extremely important for us to create visitor facilities worthy of this unique and iconic visitor attraction and to use the latest sustainable materials and building technologies wherever possible.

Since opening last month we have already welcomed an incredible 85,000 visitors to the Causeway, the highest number of monthly visitors ever recorded at any of the Trust’s special places.

“Being able to cater for such large numbers of visitors whilst still protecting and conserving such a unique and precious site was vital. 

“The extra visitors we can now look after will provide a major boost to the regional economy with the site supporting 150 team members which includes volunteers.”

The roof of the building is planted with local grasses grown from seed collected from the surrounding area so that the centre integrates with the landscape and offers a haven for local wildlife.  It also offers visitors a fantastic panoramic view of the coastline.

Trails and pathways throughout the World Heritage setting have also been upgraded to offer improved access and views of the spectacular scenery.

New interactive displays and activities inside the visitor centre include an animation of the story of legendary giants Finn McCool and Benandonner and visitors can also discover the science behind how the site was formed 60 million years ago and read the engaging stories of local people connected to the site.

The £18.5 million investment was made possible with support from £9.25 million from Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment of which £6.125 million has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with £6.25 million from National Trust funds.

For further information, opening times and ticket prices visit


Giant’s Causeway visitor centre interpretation statement

The National Trust has welcomed over 25,000 visitors through the new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre since we opened its doors at the beginning of July.

We have been delighted with the positive feedback we have seen and heard from our visitors.

However, one small part of the visitor centre’s interpretive display has caused mixed reactions, mainly from people reacting to media coverage and online discussions.

The display in question focuses on the role that the Giant’s Causeway has played in the historical debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed.

Our intention in this section was to provide visitors with a flavour of the wide range of opinions and views that have been put forward over the years.

Our intention was not to promote or legitimise any of these opinions or views.

Unfortunately, elements from this part of the display appear to have been taken out of context and misinterpreted by some.

A spokesman said: “Having listened to our members’ comments and concerns, we feel that clarity is needed.

“There is clearly no scientific debate about the age of the earth or how the Causeway stones were formed.

“The National Trust does not endorse or promote any other view.

“Our exhibits, literature and audio guides for visits to the Causeway stones and this renowned World Heritage Site all reflect this.

“To ensure that no further misunderstanding or misrepresentation of this exhibit can occur, we have decided to review the interpretive materials in this section.”

Our focus at the Giant’s Causeway is to ensure that the 700,000 or so visitors we expect to welcome in the coming year will have a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and rewarding visit.  During this summer we have extended opening times from 9a.m. to 9p.m. See  for details of opening times, pre booking arrangements and specials deals for those who arrive by green transport.

>>update Wednesday 3 October: Review now completed, see details here>>

An update from the team at Giant’s Causeway

We’re encouraging everyone to come and see the new interpretation at the Causeway for themselves and make up their own mind. But we realise not everyone contributing to the discussion may be able to come in person. So please allow us to take some time to describe exactly what we have in on site interpretation.

Once at the Causeway all visitors receive an audio guide which tells some of the history of the people who lived and worked here and then describes the formation of the Causeway landscape across 60 million years. This interpretation tool is the one which most visitors will be exposed to.

Inside the centre there are two major exhibits which we hope most of our visitors will see – a large model showing the landscape of the world heritage site and a big screen film. The film show has two films of around two minutes each. One of the films tells the tale of Finn McCool, the other shows how the Causeway landscape was formed and shaped, starting around 65 million years ago with the eruption of the lower basalts (followed by the formation of the columns and subsequent weathering and ice ages).

The more detailed exhibition space contains a whole range of activities for visitors who can spend a little big longer on site. Around one third of this space is devoted to ‘Formation and Shaping’. This in turn is laid out roughly by scale and time – i.e. those exhibits at one end are more global and look at the grand sweep of geological time, those at the other are more concerned with ‘column’ scale and the history of science.

Here’s a list of the exhibits within this area:

  • ‘Atlantic Widening’ – a turn handle exhibit primarily aimed at children which describes how the mid Atlantic ridge has been spreading for millions of years and still is today (at the speed your fingernails grow)
  • ‘Planet on the Move’ – a display which details other sites around the world which have basalt columns, and which clearly sets out when these formed in the context of the Causeway’s formation 60 million years ago
  • ‘Where on Earth’ – our largest touchscreen exhibit looks at 400 million years of Ireland’s rocks using a specially made paleoglobe animation – visitors click dates ranging from 400mya to 100my future (predicted), watch the continents shift and read facts about particular points (e.g. evolution and extinction of the dinosaurs, human evolution etc.)
  • ‘Causeway suspects’ – another touchscreen where visitors can look at the forces which have shaped the Causeway – lava, wind and rain (weathering), ice ages and people (Victorian path cutting to climate change). The dates of all these ‘suspects’ are clearly mentioned from 60mya for lava to hundreds of thousands of years for successive ice ages
  • ‘Causeway suspects’ – models and flipbooks of Causeway landscape features, the Boot, the Onion skin rocks and the Camel – exploring them as a glacial erratic, product of chemical weathering and dolertite dyke respectively (again stating how long the processes involved take)
  • ‘Modern Geologist’s desk’ – a touchscreen exploring the work of geologists on site today, a virtual microscope showing thin sections, an animation showing the basic geological succession sequence at the Causeway, and a virtual coffee cup to stir
  • ‘Basalt investigation’ (this and the following exhibits are in the more historical part) ‘basalt investigation’ is aimed more at younger visitors and helps them to look at the properties of basalt just as the first investigators did when they were working out what the Causeway columns were made of (shape, density, colour and texture) using actual pieces of rock. In particular it busts the idea that many visitors have before they arrive, that the columns’ formation somehow involved the sea.
  • ‘Ball and socket’ jointing – a full sized section of column demonstrates how ball and socket jointing formed in the columns
  • ‘Travelling column’ – tells the story of how columns and rock samples were removed over the years and have ended up in institutions all over the world

Lastly there is the ‘debating characters’ exhibit, which sparked the discussion. This exhibit consists of five different audio samples triggered by buttons. It is designed to give a flavour of the historical debates there have been over the Causeway’s formation – starting with arguments between Sir Thomas Molyneux and a mystery correspondent (probably George Ashe) over whether the columns were fossil or mineral. The next clip sets out a flavour of the argument between Vulcanists and Neptunists. The next clip details how James Hutton’s work opened the way for definitive proof of an ancient earth. The fourth clip mentions a theory published in the 1800s that the Causeway was fossilised bamboo. Then the final clip states that Young Earth Creationists exist who wish to continue the debate today, as they believe the earth is only 6000 years old.

Once again we urge all those who can visit the Causeway to do so. We believe we have approached this topic fairly, proportionately and entirely scientifically, and hope you will agree once you come to the Causeway in person.

National Trust statement and transcript of ‘debating characters’ exhibit

If you feel you have a question which has not been answered sufficiently here please direct it to

Or you can write to: Giant’s Causeway Interpretation Issues, The National Trust, Northern Ireland Regional Office, Rowallane House, Saintfield, Co. Down, BT24 7LH, and will do our best to answer your enquires there.