Tourism planning guidelines hailed
New measures to help smooth the planning process for tourism development are "common sense", Northern Ireland's Environment Minister has claimed.
Alex Attwood said the Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 16, would help boost the struggling economy while protecting existing assets from further development.
"The planning system plays a crucial role in assisting and supporting a thriving tourism industry," he said. "PPS 16 provides a common sense planning policy framework that is right for Northern Ireland that achieves the correct balance between development and protection."
Among the key elements is the inclusion of an "exceptional circumstances" policy which paves the way for major tourism development projects that would bring jobs and tourists to rural communities and benefit the tourism industry.
Applicants will also no longer be required to demonstrate "need" for tourist accommodation while holiday/caravan parks do not have to be within a development plan.
"I believe it is important to afford protection to tourism assets associated with our natural and built heritage, not only for conservation reasons, but also to ensure their continued effectiveness in attracting tourists and underpinning the tourism industry," added the Minister.
Mr Attwood has recently come under fire from environmentalists over his decision to approve a luxury golf resort at Runkerry close to the Giant's Causeway world heritage site in Co Antrim.
Declan Allison from Friends of the Earth said: "I would be concerned because the record of planning policy in Northern Ireland in protecting our environmental, natural and built heritage is not particularly good. We only have to look at Giant's Causeway and at the Fermanagh Crannog which was covered over to make way for a new road to speed the leaders to the G8."
However, Geoffrey Chestnutt, chairman of Caravan and Camping Forum for Northern Ireland, welcomed the new policy. He said it would provide flexibility for businesses to grow.
"Northern Ireland's economy benefits from the business generated by over 120 holiday and touring parks which provide a market for local goods and services as well as jobs, both on parks and in their host communities," said Mr Chestnutt.