THE Environment Minister Alex Attwood has issued a new planning policy for sustainable tourism development.
His Department has said that Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 16 will bring forward clearer, more flexible planning policy creating more opportunities for tourism that will be beneficial to the local economy and will protect tourism assets from inappropriate development.
It will make it easier for developers and other stakeholders to bring forward tourism proposals that are appropriate and sustainable in towns, cities and the countryside.
Key changes in the policy that will promote sustainable tourism development and provide more opportunities for sustainable development in the countryside are:
* the inclusion of an exceptional circumstances policy, this means that unique proposals for a major tourism development project in the countryside, which will bring jobs and tourists to rural communities and benefit the tourism industry, can be approved;
* the removal of the requirement for an applicant to demonstrate ‘need’ for tourist accommodation in the countryside will make it less difficult for applicants to bring forward proposals, and easier and quicker for the planning authority to process applications;
* holiday / caravan park sites in the countryside no longer need to be within the Development Plan, as required by Draft PPS16. In rural areas, new or extended holiday parks will be required to integrate into the surrounding countryside and to demonstrate a high quality layout and design;
* expansion of the Draft PPS16 provisions for hotels to now also include proposals for guest houses and tourist hostels in the countryside.
However, challenging PPS !6, Friends of the Earth NI spokesman Declan Allison said: “This Planning Policy Statement is yet another example of economic considerations trumping all others. The Executive is determined to create a planning free-for-all. We have already seen the Environment Minister’s approach to tourism sites when he risked the World Heritage Site status of the Giant’s Causeway, and when he allowed the unique Drumclay crannog in Enniskillen to be bulldozed. Northern Ireland’s most precious places are being sacrificed on the altar of profit.
“The Minister insists this policy is about sustainable development. Merely including the phrase doesn’t make it sustainable though. True sustainability is about maximising economic, social, and environmental factors, not balancing one off against the others. It’s hard to see how elevating economic considerations in this way can be seen as sustainable. It will most likely result in the destruction of the very attractions the Minister claims he wants to protect.”
In explaining the new PP@ 16 policy, Alex Attwood said: “The planning system plays a crucial role in assisting and supporting a thriving tourism industry. My officials have worked closely with the tourism sector to develop PPS16 to help achieve this. PPS 16 provides a common sense planning policy framework that is right for Northern Ireland that achieves the correct balance between development and protection.
“The new policy aims to manage the provision of sustainable and high quality tourism developments in appropriate locations within the built and natural environment. This will reinforce the green and clean credentials that make the North such a special place. It will provide a planning framework that will help boost the economy as tourism serves as an economic driver. As the tourism sector grows in a sustainable way, so do jobs, services and facilities.
“PPS 16 underpins the recently announced half a million pound regeneration fund for coastal communities and the £1 million dereliction fund that I have made available to tackle dereliction and spruce up a number of areas in Northern Ireland. The built and natural heritage will drive future increases in tourist numbers and spend. Six of the top ten visitor attractions are features of our built and natural heritage. Growing tourism from a £500 million to a £1 billion a year industry will revolve around the positive protection and development of this heritage and this new policy that I am bringing forward will help to do this.”
Geoffrey Chestnutt, Chairman of Caravan and Camping Forum for Northern Ireland said: “The Caravan and Camping Forum for Northern Ireland welcome the recognition within PPS16 of the importance of the holiday parks industry to Northern Ireland’s economy.
“DOE Planning’s engagement with the industry was instrumental in framing policies which should provide the flexibility to allow sustainable park development. Northern Ireland’s economy benefits from the business generated by over 120 holiday and touring parks which provide a market for local goods and services as well as jobs, both on parks and in their host communities.”
The Minister added: “I believe it is important to afford protection to tourism assets associated with our natural and built heritage, not only for conservation reasons, but also to ensure their continued effectiveness in attracting tourists and underpinning the tourism industry,” adding that PPS 16 is aimed tol protect tourism assets from insensitive development, not just tourism development, to avoid damage to their quality and character.
PPS 16 will replace tourism policies SP 10 and TOU 1 to TOU 4 and coastal policies CO 5 to CO 7 of ‘A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland’. It will also supersede policy CTY 1 of PPS 21 insofar as it relates to the tourism policies of ‘A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland’.