David Ford said: “It is now some weeks since the Minister said she was ‘minded to’ approve a planning application for a private Visitors Centre at the Giant’s Causeway. Since then there has been a continuous series of revelations involving relationships between the applicant – Seaport Investments – and other members of the Minister’s party.
“At the same time, the Planning File made available to members of the Assembly Committee contains evidence suggesting that officials in Planning Service and Environment and Heritage Service were inclined to oppose this plan. I have read it closely. Nothing in the file suggests that the concerns expressed by UNESCO in its 2003 Report have been properly addressed.
“It is therefore inevitable that the Minister’s decision has become mired in controversy. Without in any suggesting she has behaved improperly, I believe that her provisional opinion is deeply flawed.
“Given all the issues surrounding her party colleagues, it is difficult to see how the Minister’s decision will be accepted across the range of interested parties. I believe that she now has to distance herself from the controversy if this matter is to be resolved satisfactorily.
“I have therefore written to Mrs Foster and suggested that she should consider referring the Planning Application to the Planning Appeals Commission, as she is entitled to do for such a significant scheme. If she were to announce that she would accept without amendment whatever decision was recommended by the PAC, she could distance herself from the controversy and defuse the party political debate round the issue.
“I believe that such a move would be the best way of ensuring public acceptance of whatever decision was eventually taken.”