National Park would have economic benefits: Attwood
He had been asked by Oliver McMullan MLA “how the proposed national parks will help 20,000 unemployed people into work?”
The territories around Benevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the wider Causeway Coast has been mooted as a possible location for Northern Ireland’s first ‘National Park’.
Mr Attwood replied: “National parks elsewhere provide some direct employment, but their impact can be felt more fully in terms of the boost they give to existing businesses and the encouraging environment they provide for the creation of new ones. Some have suggested that national parks provide only part-time, tourist-related jobs.
“This is not the full story. In the current economic climate we need all the jobs we can get, both full- and part-time. In some of our rural communities, part-time employment can be the difference between people being able to remain in their own locality and having to move away.
“National parks are just one way in which to create opportunities for the unemployed. With so many
expected to be out of work after welfare reform – and this will be a long-term problem – we need to
identify potential employment opportunities. I will therefore continue to meet with interested parties, and consider all that they have to say, before taking a decision on the most appropriate way forward.
“It seems a self evident point but one which needs to be made – the economic contribution of our historic environment is substantial but can be multiplied, to have the scale of return in other parts of these islands. To do so requires the protection, the positive development and promotion of our heritage, particularly rural, to, for example, grow tourism to a £1 billion pa industry. Our countryside, rural offering and rural industries are at the heart of economic opportunity. National “Parks may or may not be rejected – but rural development and jobs can contribute to addressing not only the in scale represented in potentially 20,000 more being out of work but in tackling the existing 64,000 out of work.”
Mr McMullan also asked the Minister of the Environment, to list the parties with whom he had private meetings in light of the possibility of establishing a National Park in Northern Ireland; and to detail the content and outcomes of these meetings.
Mr Attwood replied: “I have met with a wide variety of groups, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Mourne Heritage Trust, the Institute of Directors, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and with Moyle District Council, amongst others.
“These meetings provide the opportunity for me both to explain my rationale for advocating national parks and to listen to the opinions and concerns of others. They allow for frank and serious face-to-face discussion in private, as I take stock of where we are in relation to national parks. Such meetings play a valuable role in helping me to determine where we go from here in a situation where there has been some very vocal opposition to the idea of national parks.
“I will therefore continue to meet with interested parties, and consider all that they have to say, before taking a decision on the most appropriate way forward.”
The Causeway Coast area, including the whole region around Benevenagh, has been described as the “first and easiest” option for Northern Ireland’s first National Park by the Ulster Society for the Preservation of the Countryside, an organisation strongly in favour of the proposals for a National Park in Northern Ireland.