National Park no 'as things stand'

Published Friday, 19 October 2012
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Environment Minister Alex Attwood said that as things stand there will be no National Park set up in the Mourne Mountains.

National Park no 'as things stand'
The Mourne Mountains in Co Down has been nominated. (© Getty)

Mr Attwood, who is currently deciding whether to go ahead with the creation of four parks across Northern Ireland, said there is currently more opposition to the proposal than support and that the move could not be imposed on the Mournes area.

The SDLP minister said: "I have said and say again now that, as things are, the voice of opposition in the Mournes is greater than the voice of support. A national park cannot be imposed. As things are - there won't be one in the Mournes."

His comments followed a statement from Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott on Thursday, which suggested the minister had "shifted his position" and was preparing to "drop the introduction of National Parks, especially in the Mournes".

However Mr Attwood stressed that he has not yet made a final decision.

He continued: "Maybe Tom Elliott has not been fully listening so let me repeat.

"My letter to the Environment Committee repeats what I have been saying in recent weeks, nothing more, nothing less. I am taking stock, will be doing so over the next while and will then decide how to proceed.

"I am holding a series of private meetings with a full range of people and organisations to hear the full range of views. At the heart of this issue is simply this: our heritage- built and natural- is a big part of the quality of our lives and jobs and tourism going forward."

Northern Ireland is the only UK region without a National Park.

The proposals to set up parks in four areas - the Mournes, Causeway Coast and Antrim Glens, and the Fermanagh Lakelands - have been the subject of much debate recently.

Local farmers who oppose the move have raised concerns about the impact on their business if their land was to become part of one.

Harry Sinclair, president of the Ulster Farmers' Union, has welcomed the latest comments from the Environment Minister.

He said: "Farmers and the wider community in the Mournes have consistently expressed their outright opposition to a National Park and I am very pleased that Minister Alex Attwood appears to have listened to them and has ruled out a National Park in their area.

"Farmers genuine concerns about issues such as additional bureaucracy, additional restrictions, governance, access, liability, and the impact on the social structure of their areas are all deep rooted and apply equally in every part of Northern Ireland, not just the Mournes".

Mr Attwood later responded to the UFU statement saying he was "a little surprised".

He continued: "I have repeatedly said there would be no further restrictions on planning, farming and other activities in any possible park area.

"The UFU should acknowledge and not continue to claim that there would be additional restrictions."

© UTV News
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