Farming and tourism
The extent of opposition to Environment Minister Alex Attwood's proposals to create national parks in Northern Ireland was further highlighted at a meeting held in Newcastle this week, organised by the Mourne AONB Residents Action Group.
In total, around 1,000 people from across NI attended the meeting, the majority to voice their anger and frustration at Minister Attwood's plans.
Despite receiving a personal invitation, Minister Attwood did not attend, which was not surprising given the reception he received at a similar meeting last month in Cookstown.
The main speaker was John Thorley from the Welsh Commons Forum, a group representing owners of common land in Wales (10% of land in Wales is common land).
Thorley was previously CEO of the National Sheep Association, a position he held for 38 years, and is a well-respected figure within the farming community in Britain.
During his presentation, John Thorley gave an insight into farming and living within the Brecon Beacons National Park in mid-Wales.
That National Park was designated in 1957, it covers 519 square miles (about one tenth the size of NI) and is currently controlled by a National Park Authority consisting of 24 board members and 130 staff.
It was this National Park Authority that came in for most criticism from Thorley.
He described them as a "frightening bunch of control freaks" and said that they had brought a new tier of bureaucracy to farming in the area.
Thorley gave various examples of problems encountered by local people living within the National Park.
This included difficulty in obtaining planning permission for both dwellings and farm buildings and also priority being given to public rights of way across farms.
He recalled the views of a farmer who had served on the Park Authority but had left after becoming frustrated at the lack of consideration shown towards land owners.
One of the largest tourist operators within the Brecon Beacons recently told Thorley that he would take his business out of the National Park if he could.
He maintained that tourist attractions OUTSIDE the National Park were at a major advantage as they were not constrained by various rules and regulations.
Thorley described the claim that National Park designation would result in a big increase in tourism in NI as a "cynical quirk of a fertile imagination".
He concluded: "Think long and hard before you saddle yourselves and your children with a National Park."
While there were not many voices in support of a National Park, one came from Audrey Byrne, chairperson of Newcastle Chamber of Commerce.
She said that shops in Newcastle were struggling and that the area needed more visitors and more investment, something that a National Park designation could potentially bring.
Her view was echoed in part by local SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie, who suggested that local people "get round a table and agree a way forward".
Ritchie maintained that it was not just her party colleague, Alex Attwood who was pushing for National Parks, but that it had cross-party support, highlighted by the inclusion of National Park designation as a commitment in the Stormont Executive's programme for government.
However, there is no mention of National Parks in the current programme for government, although it will need cross-party support before it can be put in legislation.
That means support from Sinn Féin and the DUP. While no senior DUP representatives attended the meeting (all 108 MLA's at Stormont were invited), local Sinn Fein Councillor, Willie Clarke did speak.
He said that his party was still involved in a process of consultation and were trying to get facts.
He said "ultimately the people will decide" although he did not suggest how exactly this would be measured.
Concluding remarks were made by Valerie Hanna from the Mourne AONB Residents Association, who accused the NI Tourist Board of doing "absolutely nothing" to promote the Mourne AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) brand.
She said: "If the Tourist Board can't promote an AONB, how on earth could they promote a National Park?"
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