Northern Ireland is a largely rural community, not in the numbers of people living in the countryside, but in their dispersal.
And there are parts of the landscape which are of exceptional beauty and outstanding scientific interest. It follows that any planning policy governing development in rural areas must seek to balance the needs of the people with the concerns over the environment.
The initial reaction to the new planning policy statement on sustainable development in the countryside published by Environment Minister Edwin Poots is that he has managed in large part to achieve that balance. It certainly appears to be a much more credible policy than the much derided one introduced in 2006 and which sought to virtually halt development in rural areas.
There are a number of interests which must be taken into consideration when applying planning policy to the countryside. The most obvious is that of the farming community. Agriculture in all its forms is a vital industry in Northern Ireland and must be encouraged to grow, diversify and flourish. The new policy recognises this by relaxing the rules governing new homes or farm buildings.
Other people also live in the countryside or may wish to do so. It is only just that they should be given that opportunity. Rural settlements, hamlets and villages need to be regenerated if they are not to wither and disappear. Schools and services will close if there are not enough young people to sustain them. Again the new policy takes those considerations into account.
Of course, the planners need to guard against the sort of bungalow blight which defaced large parts of Donegal, but the policy contains sufficient safeguards. It is wrong to describe it as a charter for speculators and developers, and the Minister has promised that there will be a review in two years' time to see how the policy is working. That is a sensible approach and Mr Poots is to be commended on the measures he has introduced.