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National parks shortlist published

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The Causeway Coast has been shortlisted for selection as Northern Ireland's first national park

The Causeway Coast has been shortlisted for selection as Northern Ireland's first national park

The Causeway Coast has been shortlisted for selection as Northern Ireland's first national park

A shortlist of three areas for selection as Northern Ireland's first national parks has been published.

The Mournes; the Causeway Coast and Antrim Glens, and the Fermanagh Lakelands were chosen by an expert panel.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood hopes to designate two national parks.

He said: "Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands that does not have national parks.

"It is time to grasp the opportunity."

He added: "This would advertise the scale and wonder of our heritage and create jobs in times of need. The shortlist should excite interest and be a catalyst to move the argument on positively."

He is seeking legislation that will enable him to designate the areas as national parks. He is circulating a paper to Executive colleagues recommending they endorse the principle of the new law and hopes to achieve this before the July holidays.

A panel of experts was appointed last autumn to create a shortlist from 12 options.

The panel included Dr Brendan Murtagh, from the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen's University, Belfast; Dawson Stelfox, from the Royal Society of Ulster Architects; Michael Starrett, from the Heritage Council; and Tim Birley, an adviser on sustainable development in Scotland.

There are six national parks in the Republic and 15 in the UK.

PA