South Down Assembly Member Cllr Willie Clarke has said that rural regeneration and sustainable rural development can best be achieved through an All Ireland approach.
Mr Clarke said:
"Rural communities must be made sustainable through greater cross border links.
"I believe there is a need to maximise both governments Rural Development programmes and to interlock them and ensure they are being used to maximum affect.
"Families are leaving the land and moving to cities and urban centres because their holdings are deemed not commercially viable. As families forsake farming, the rural villages they were once part off are becoming increasingly run down with local businesses closing. In addition to this, a lower provision of public services leads to fewer employment opportunities and ultimately to further migration out of rural areas.
"A common way forward North and South can break this cumulative cycle. On such a small island it makes sense to have a joined up effort to develop this sector and to improve the provision of local services and the development of supporting infrastructure required for real rural community sustainability.
"Economic development strategies tailored for the large towns and suburbs will fail in a rural setting. However, that does not mean that rural areas should be left out of development strategies, as has often been the case in the past. The success over the years of a range of small-scale but often highly effective projects throughout Ireland shows the potential that exists given the right approach.
"A more integrated approach between North and South, between rural development and regional development programmes and across all Assembly departments in the provision of public services in rural areas can help to combat urban sprawl and make lives in rural areas economically viable and sustainable." ENDS