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Editor's Viewpoint: National Parks plan could be real boost

Published 31/08/2011

New Environment Minister Alex Attwood is certainly not letting the grass grow under his feet.

The day after announcing get-tough plans to combat litter louts, he is now pushing ahead to develop National Parks in the province. His first step is to appoint a panel of experts to see which areas - for example the Mournes, Fermanagh's Lakeland or the North Coast - would meet the criteria to be designated areas for special protection.

While there is little doubt that Northern Ireland has several areas which could qualify, the Minister is right to make it clear that the project is not a done deal and that all interests will be fully consulted before any designation is made.

Of course environmentalists and tourist interests will be in favour of creating bespoke National Parks, but those who own land in those areas must also have their concerns addressed. That is why Mr Attwood is correct to say he wants to see a National Parks model which is unique to the province and not simply importing that currently operating in Scotland or England.

But it is important that the Minister keeps the momentum on this issue going. Decisions on potential National Parks have been stonewalled for far too long. The creation of specially designated parks would be a major boost to tourism, and would be welcomed by both those holidaying at home and visitors.

Tourism has strong growth potential and can be a major contributor to the local economy. Any initiative which can boost visitor numbers is to be welcomed and encouraged.

Northern Ireland has few natural resources, but the beauty of its countryside is one of them and should be exploited. However, the creation of National Parks is not simply about tourism. It is also about preserving and managing the countryside so that it remains a viable attraction as well as a valuable asset. In that respect the interests of the farming and tourism sectors merge and they should build upon this common ground.

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