Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Farmers up in arms over Mournes National Park plan

Plans to make the Mournes a National Park have angered local farmers
The Silent Valley from the summit of Slieve Bernagh in the Mournes , Sept. 11. Submitted by Wilfred Swain
View from Newcastle's promenade capturing the promenade, beach, bridge and the Mournes in the background. Picture by Virginia Faro-Maza

Farmers opposed to the designation of the Mournes as a National Park have voiced concerns that it would be a “nightmare” move.

Landowners strongly opposed to the proposed change in status for the picturesque area have said it would only add an extra layer of bureaucracy.

The Mournes is one of a number of areas being considered for National Park status by Environment Minister Alex Attwood.

The Antrim Glens, Causeway coast and Fermanagh Lakelands have also been identified as potential locations.

The idea of designating the Mournes as a National Park was met with strong opposition at a public meeting in Co Down.

Around 1,000 people gathered at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle last night to discuss the proposal.

Mr Attwood was unable to attend but his department is organising meetings with groups for and against National Parks.

There are six National Parks in the Republic and 15 in Britain. Northern Ireland is the only UK region with none, and Mr Attwood wants two to be created.

John Rankin from the Ulster Farmers’ Union said the majority of people at the meeting were opposed to the Mournes being a National Park.

“Nothing we have heard would encourage us that it is a good idea or benefit us in any particular way,” he said.

Among the farmers objecting to the proposals was Joe McGinn, who has been farming in the Mournes for over 50 years.

He said the National Park was the “hot topic” of conversation in the area.

“It’s discussed more than the weather,” Mr McGinn said. “People are very worried about it.

“I think it’s another level of bureaucracy we don’t need. Farmers do not want this. It would be a nightmare.

“There are no benefits for us or the area. Of course we want and need economic growth, but a National Park is not the way forward.”

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie told the Belfast Telegraph she wanted the best possible outcome for her constituents. She wanted to make sure her party colleague listened to their concerns.

Ms Ritchie (below) said: “I will be meeting the minister on Monday and, although I acknowledge his point that National Parks brought considerable economic benefits in other jurisdictions, I want to ensure that the concerns that have been brought by the community are fully acknowledged and investigated. This process is all about ensuring the best possible outcome for the people of South Down.”

A DoE spokeswoman said Mr Attwood was very aware of the range of views for and against National Parks. “He will now take stock of the situation, part of which will be a series of meetings with different groups with different views on the issue,” she said.

Experience in Wales is a warning

By John Thorley

Over the last seven years we have found working with Brecon Beacons National Park authorities impossible.

The parks authority is an appointed organisation. There are no means of getting democratic control over it and they have ideas about managing the commons within their curtilage which are totally unrealistic.

Farmers who work within the National Parks find great difficulty in getting planning permission for a modern building.

The extra amount of bureaucracy means you have to apply to the local authority and then the park authority.

There are two hurdles to jump and the experience of people in Wales is it is harder to get parks authority approval.

With the Mourne Mountains you already have something very special within democratic control. If you allow a National Park in you’ll have no democratic control. Once it’s in, it’s in.

People think it will attract tourists and get shops working more effectively. It won’t. If you don’t believe it, come and have a look at Brecon. It has suffered because of National Park status. It makes life more difficult without any commensurate benefits.

John Thorley is secretary of the Welsh Commons Forum

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