Unchecked rise of wind farms bad for Northern Ireland tourism, say ramblers
Wind farms are spoiling some of Northern Ireland's most scenic walking routes, including the Ulster Way.
That's the warning from ramblers who are calling for a moratorium on wind farms in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and other walking hotspots.
The Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs (UFRC) says there is no central policy within the planning system that looks at the impact of planning applications on walking tourism.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson (below) has warned that the wild countryside that is attracting Game of Thrones tourists to Northern Ireland is under threat from wind farm development. His comments come after warnings that wind farms could cost the Scottish tourist industry hundreds of millions of pounds because walkers are being deterred.
"They are being put off because part of the experience is the wildness of the countryside and that is being lost as roads come in and structures are built," Mr Wilson said.
"There is evidence that wind farms do have an impact on that kind of tourism which does generate a lot of income for pubs and restaurants when people go out for walks."
Mr Wilson said Northern Ireland is out of step with the rest of the UK in ramping up land-based wind farm development.
"If you look at the kinds of activities which have made Northern Ireland attractive to tourists – Game of Thrones is a good example – it's the idea of the wildness of some of these places," he said.
"We don't have any one big tourist thing we can sell. We've got to sell a whole lot of different parts and the wildness of the countryside is one of those things. The danger is that we could lose all that."
UFRC chairman Alan McFarland said a number of wind farms are planned at the Antrim Hills stretch of the Ulster Way.
"We believe a moratorium on wind farms should be put in place in AONBs or areas that are attracting walkers," he said.
"We're not anti-wind farm, but we're worried that there is no central policy or guideline in the planning system that will protect areas of wilderness from wind farms."
A DOE spokeswoman said Environment Minister Mark H Durkan is satisfied that existing policies allow the need for renewable energy development to be balanced with protection of the environment and tourism.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan recently launched for public consultation a new single Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) for Northern Ireland which consolidates the existing suite of PPSs into a single document. A DOE spokeswoman said: "This consultation provides a further opportunity to take into account comments on the full range of issues associated with the development of wind farms." The SPPS consultation closes on April 29 and responses can be made at www.planningni.gov.uk/spps