Cookstown Area Plan 2010
Policy Framework: Tourism
Tourism in Cookstown District is based predominantly on the area's natural and built heritage, with Lough Neagh and the Sperrins providing the major focal points for a range of recreational and tourism activities. There is also a number of specific tourist attractions such as Drum Manor Forest Park, Wellbrook Beetling Mill, Springhill House, and the historic plantation settlement of Moneymore.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) estimates that in 2001 Cookstown District's share of the overall tourism market of Northern Ireland was 1.1% (approximately £3 million). Tourism can provide a number of economic and social benefits and whilst there is considerable potential for future growth of this sector within Cookstown District, this should not be at the expense of its environmental assets. This is in line with the approach of the Tourist Board outlined in its document 'Tourism in Northern Ireland - A Sustainable Approach'. This sets out the principles of sustainable tourism that will be applied by the Tourist Board in assessing proposals for tourism development throughout Northern Ireland.
The promotion and marketing of tourism is primarily the responsibility of Cookstown District Council which also operates a wide range of tourism based facilities such as picnic, caravan and amenity sites, e.g. Ballyronan Marina. Other public agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's (DARD) Forest Service and the Department of the Environment's Environment and Heritage Service, (EHS) have co-operated to open up historic and specialist interest sites to the public e.g. Drum Manor Forest Park and Beaghmore Stone Circles, and provided as appropriate, walks and caravan and camping facilities. Most tourism accommodation, such as hotels and self catering chalets, is provided by the private sector which also contributes to the provision of other tourism and associated facilities such as restaurants, cafes and craft shops.
The District Council, through its current Local Area Economic Development Strategy, will target future investment in tourism development on four key areas:
- the promotion of sustainable tourism based on important features of the District's archaeological heritage at Ardboe Cross, Beaghmore Stone Circles and Tullaghoge Fort;
- the development of increased access to the countryside through provision of a cycle network and public walks, incorporating improved services and interpretation facilities at specific locations across the District;
- the development of a Recreation and Amenity Centre at Loughry College; and
- continuing support for the Sperrin Tourism Partnership and Lough Neagh Tourism marketing initiatives.
The 'Natural Resource Rural Tourism', administered by DARD, in partnership with EHS and NITB, is an initiative which may facilitate small scale tourist development.
Regional Planning Context
One of the key roles of the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) is to provide the spatial framework to accommodate changing tourism and leisure habits, whilst conserving the key assets of the natural and built environment.
The RDS provides the following Strategic Planning Guidelines:
- to promote a sustainable approach to the provision of tourism infrastructure;
- to establish a world wide image for Northern Ireland, based on positive images of progress, and attractive places to visit;
- to protect and enhance a varied range of tourism development opportunities; and
- identify Major Tourism Development Opportunities for the Private Sector to Develop 'Destination Resort' complexes in Northern Ireland, based on distinctive Tourism Themes.
The Department's regional planning policies for tourism in Cookstown District are currently set out in A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland. This contains policies for tourism development, tourism accommodation and the protection of tourism assets. It also addresses caravan and camping sites and advance directional signs.
Lough Neagh and the Sperrins are the principal natural assets likely to attract visitors to Cookstown District. However, the important conservation interests of these areas are likely to limit tourism development opportunities. Accordingly, the Department designates Tourism Opportunity Zones within these areas which it considers are capable of best accommodating sympathetic and sustainable tourist schemes. These Tourism Opportunity Zones are identified on District Map No. 1.
Within the Sperrins the Department designates a zone where the quality and character of the landscape is considered so special, and the conservation interests so significant, that there will generally be a presumption against new tourism development proposals. Only minor development or the re-use of traditional buildings, where these are sympathetic to the character of the local landscape and heritage interests, will be approved. This will assist the promotion of tourism in the area by helping to conserve its key environmental and historic assets. This Tourism Conservation Zone is identified on District Map No. 1.
Realising the tourism potential of Cookstown District will require investment in marketing, product development and physical facilities in terms of visitor infrastructure, especially visitor accommodation. However, since a vibrant tourism sector depends on a quality host environment, its expansion must be based on provision of quality tourism facilities and accommodation that contribute to the sustainability of the industry. Sustainability does not imply the total avoidance of environmental impact. There will always be impact, however, development that complies with the basic principles of good design and landscaping in terms of sympathetic location, sensitive siting and respect for vernacular traditions, will ensure that new facilities minimise detrimental effects whilst securing the long term future of tourism resources.