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Sinn Féin announce major campaign launch regarding rural planning

9 May, 2006

Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew speaking at the launch of a major campaign to secure a future for rural communities has said that people must make their voices heard during the consultation of the proposed planning guidelines, PPS 14.

Ms Gildernew was joined by party colleagues Bairbre de Brún MEP, Francie Molloy MLA and Councillor Brenda Chivers.

Ms Gildernew said:

"These guidelines will have a huge impact on our rural communities. It is essential that everyone in rural communities makes their voices heard during this consultation.

"Sinn Féin will be holding public meetings across the north, in West Tyrone, Fermanagh South Tyrone, Newry Armagh, Antrim, East Derry, South Down starting tomorrow night in County Antrim. We will be encouraging people to get involved in the campaign to secure a future for our rural communities and publishing 50,000 leaflets that people can use to make submissions directly to the department.

Speaking about the specific challenges facing the farming community Ms Gildernew said:

"Farmers are facing up to new challenges as a result of CAP reform with cross compliance measures and particularly the pressures to diversify and develop greater reliance on off-farm activities and a stronger role in countryside management and protection.

"They are doing this against a backdrop of falling incomes and high levels of debt.

"The impact of these draft planning guidelines, particularly on smaller farmers will be devastating. Many will face huge hardship because of unserviceable debt, difficulty in diversifying and others will not meet the viability criteria to allow them to sustain their businesses.

"There is a clear contradiction in the direction that farmers are being urged to develop and the restrictions that PPS 14 will have on their ability to be part of a sustainable rural economy."

Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy added:

"There is much more to rural communities than bricks and mortar. They are sustained by people who live and work in rural areas, by schools and local businesses. If we make it unsustainable or impossible particularly for young people to live in rural areas then we starve rural communities of their future.

"No one should accept the rural way of life that has been built up over generations being threatened in this heavy handed manner by British direct rule ministers who have little or no conception of rural Ireland. The rural way of life is an essential facet of Ireland that has evolved over centuries. It has survived the famine and British colonialism.

"We cannot look at the issue of rural planning in isolation. We need to take a comprehensive approach to planning across our countryside and our towns and villages. We need to look at how we sustain the rural economy and our rural communities.

Sinn Féin Councillor Brenda Chivers commenting on concerns about the rural environment said:

"No one is under any illusions that there are huge difficulties with the current planning guidelines and particularly the inconsistent and weak implementation of these guidelines by Planning Services. What we need is to get the balance right between protecting the environment for this and future generations and protecting rural communities for this and future generations.

"The countryside is not a theme park. It has been sustained by generations by rural communities. We must find that balance that does not threaten the rural way of life. Part of that is recognising what damage there is and understanding what forces have caused that damage. This means we need to look at under investment in infrastructure such as sewerage and solutions such as on-site biodegradable sceptic tanks. It is also about recognising just how bad Planning Service has been and inconsistent in applying planning policy and the way that unscrupulous property speculators have exploited this.

Bairbre de Brún highlighting a basis for progress said:

"There is a way forward. But it is essential that people get involved in the campaign to secure a future for rural communities.

"Sinn Féin believes that we need a Rural Planning Policy that:

. Supports the growth of vibrant rural communities;
. Permits well designed one-off housing that is integrated with the
. Recognises the importance of social capital and sense of place;
. Protects the environment for this and future generations;
. Deals with countryside planning as well as planning in our towns and
. Allows for the growth and prosperity of rural communities;
. Delivers a future for young people and families who want to live in rural
. Enhances the long-term viability of the farming community." ENDS

Public meetings

· Co Antrim - 7.30 pm, Wed 10th May - The Glens Hotel, Cushendall
· Co Fermanagh - 7.30 pm, Thurs 11th May - Clinton Centre, Enniskillen
· Co Armagh - 7.30pm, Tue 16th May - Tí Chulainn, Mullaghbawn
· East Derry - 7 pm, Wed 17th May - Drummond Hotel, Ballykelly
· Co Tyrone - 8pm, Thursday 18th May - Dún Uladh Cultural Heritage Centre,
· Mid Ulster - 8 pm, Friday 19th May - Rural College, Draperstown
· South Down - 7.30 pm, Thursday 25th May - The Hillyard House, Castlewellan

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