Saturday, 25 February 2012

DOE Minister Attwood and the Giants Causeway World Heritage Site

"Can the future of planning in general and planning for the World Heritage site and its environs in particular be entrusted to cabals of politicians, planners and developers? Planning outcomes would appear to indicate that the current system is not to the benefit of all." ... NALIL: Giants Causeway Visitor Centre Controversy 2007+

"I particularly interrogated the issues around World Heritage status, the role of the World Heritage Centre (WHC)/UNESCO and the approach that may be taken by the WHC. I have acted with a high vigilance and challenging approach." .. Alex Attwood, DOE Press Release, 21 February 2012

"[The Minister] said he was prepared to fly to France to meet Unesco officials or host them in Northern Ireland if they wanted to raise any concerns about the move." .. Breaking News dot ie, 21 February 2012

Have DOE officials not advised the Minister that UNESCO interacts with Westminster not Stormont vis-a-vis the protection of UK World Heritage sites and their environs?

A relatively recent online document is from the Department of Culture Media and Sport's Peter Marsden to a UNESCO official: "State of  Conservation of  Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast". It's dated 1 February 2010 and it contains the following paragraphs:

"In relation to development proposals at  the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage property,  a planning application was submitted to the Department of Environment Northern Ireland in December [2009] for a tourism development in the buffer zone of the property and is currently under consideration by the Department. The  proposed development  includes a golf resort including 18-hole championship golf course,  clubhouse, golf academy and a 120  bedroom hotel.  We are currently seeking the views of our professional advisers on the proposals and any potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The application will be  considered within the context of development plans and planning policies including those relating to the World Heritage Site and its setting  and we will keep the World Heritage Centre informed of progress. ..

The UK wishes to reassure the World Heritage Committee that the State Party  and other key stakeholders with an interest in the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast  will continue to work closely to ensure the continued protection of the  Outstanding Universal Value of this unique and important World Heritage property and its setting." [my emphasis]

Perhaps the DOE Minister can clarify whether or not DCMS found the most recent planning application - which includes an additional 75 villas - and the Minister's decision acceptable. Paul Blaker has replaced Peter Marsden and there's an NIEA contact listed.

The following email from October 2007 indicates that UNESCO will not be too happy with DCMS if UNESCO has not been consulted on all matters pertaining to the Bushmills Dunes project that impact on the status of the Giant's Causeway World Heritage site:

 "The record with the mission of 2003 and the subsequent Committee decisions (2003 and 2005) is quite clear.
Please note that I could not write directly to Northern Ireland and that I do not see the need to do so, as the decisions are obvious.
I wondered however why we had not been informed on any outcome of the design competition or other development at the site."

Giant's Causeway Statement of Outstanding Universal Value is set in the context of the DCMS draft statement.

Is the Minister's decision not in clear breach of these Planning Service policies in the draft Northern Area Plan 2016?

Policy COU 12 The Distinctive Landscape Setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site.
No development within the Distinctive Landscape Setting outside of settlement development limits will be approved except:
1. exceptionally modest scale facilities, without landscape detriment, which are necessary to meet the direct needs of visitors to the World Heritage Site;
2. extensions to dwellings that are appropriate in scale and design and represent not more than 20% of the cubic content of existing dwellings;
3. replacements of existing occupied dwellings with not more than a 20% increase in the cubic content.
These allowances will be permitted once only.

Policy COU 14 The Supportive Landscape Setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site
Development proposals outside of settlement development limits that comprise modest scale, non-residential tourist facilities that are essential for serving the requirements of visitors to the World Heritage Site only, will exceptionally be permitted in the Supportive Landscape Setting to the World Heritage Site.