National Parks for NI should be revisited, says RICS

editorial image

National Parks should be revisited as a way to protect Northern Ireland’s natural heritage, the RICS is urging.

This is one of a series of recommendations the organisation’s new Rural Policy paper.

RICS is also calling for the development of a land use strategy to help ensure that land is used in a coordinated way that ensures diverse use and protection of the landscape.

Other recommendations in the paper include a call for an incentive scheme for rural homes to be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient as a way to address fuel poverty in rural areas.

RICS Northern Ireland Director, Ben Collins, says: “Approximately 35 per-cent of the population in Northern Ireland live in rural areas. The development of vibrant, strong rural communities must be a key commitment of the NI Executive. RICS welcomes the advances towards a Rural Proofing Bill and encourages that ‘rural proofing’ becomes a fundamental part of the policy-making process.”

RICS is the principal independent body representing professionals employed in the land, property and construction sectors. In Northern Ireland, the organisation represents 4,000 cross-sectoral members comprising of chartered and associate surveyors, trainees and students.

RICS’s full list of recommendations are:

· Through the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014 – 2020 the NI Executive should prioritise increasing efficiency within the agri sector, addressing the risk of land abandonment, the lack of skills and ageing farming population.

· RICS would recommend the development of a Northern Ireland Land Use Strategy to support the Programme for Government, and to provide strategic guidance to assist sustainable and viable planning, development and management of diverse land use and protection of landscape.

· RICS would encourage the NI Executive to recognise the importance of eco-system services and the potential for their valuation and payment, to help the viability of many Northern Irish farms and increase overall landscape quality and biodiversity.

· RICS would like to see the potential for National Parks in Northern Ireland revisited.

· RICS would urge that investment in skills training in the land based sector is essential to grow the success of the farming and forestry industries.

· RICS would encourage the Local Authorities to use their recently transferred powers to have an identified economic role with non-farming businesses in rural economy through Local Development Plans.

· High quality retrofit of existing stock should be incentivised by the NI Executive to address rural housing supply and the 51% of households living in rural areas that are currently in fuel poverty. This needs to be supported by private match funding and investment in alternative energy sources in rural communities, and address the regional under investment in a fit for purpose electrical grid.

· The NI Executive must continue to maintain momentum through the RDP 2014 – 2020

· Rural Broadband Scheme, exploring options to encourage further uptake of broadband services in rural communities.