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PPS 8: Open Space, Sport and Outdoor Recreation
Annex C: Key Bodies which make a Valuable Contribution to the Development  of Open Space, Sport and Outdoor Recreation

District Councils

C1 District councils are key enablers in the development of sport and physical recreation and have the primary responsibility for the provision of public open space facilities within their areas. Their statutory powers to provide for and facilitate recreation are considerable, ranging from leisure and tourism promotion, acquisition of land for recreational use and provision of facilities, to securing public access to the countryside. It should be noted, however, that many of the powers of councils are discretionary, some are limited by legislation while others have been used infrequently due to the resources required.
C2 The statutory responsibility for district councils to secure the provision for their area of adequate facilities for recreational, social, physical and cultural activities is set out in the Local Government Order 1972 and the Recreation and Youth Service (NI) Order 1986. Specific functions regarding the adoption and subsequent maintenance of open space by councils are contained in the Open Spaces Act 1906.
C3 Under the Access to the Countryside (NI) Order 1983, district councils have a duty “to assert, protect and keep open and free from obstruction or encroachment, any public right of way....”. They are also given discretionary powers to repair and maintain rights of way, to create, divert or close public paths and to make access agreements or orders to open land.

The Sports Council for Northern Ireland

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C4 The Sports Council for Northern Ireland is responsible for promoting the furtherance of sport and physical recreation in Northern Ireland. Its role includes encouraging participation in sport, raising standards of performance, fostering the provision of new facilities and encouraging the use of existing facilities. It provides advice to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and other bodies on sports matters.
C5 In 1997 the Sports Council published the first strategy for the development of sport in Northern Ireland: Starting Well, Staying Involved and Striving for Excellence 1997-2005. The following year, together with Environment and Heritage Service, it co-sponsored publication of the first Countryside Recreation Strategy for Northern Ireland.
C6 In 1999 the Sports Council adopted a revised policy to generally oppose development that would lead to the loss of playing fields or prejudice their use as this would permanently reduce opportunities for participation in sporting activities.
C7 The Sports Council also has distinct responsibilities as a distributing body for the Lottery Sports Fund in Northern Ireland. Since 1995, approximately £50 million has been allocated to some 1000 individual sports projects. In all, over 50 sports and all 26 district council areas have benefited from Lottery Sports Fund support.

Countryside Access and Activities Network

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C8 The Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) is an umbrella organisation which brings together all groups and bodies which have an interest in, or involvement in countryside recreation in Northern Ireland.
C9 The Network was established in 1999 in response to the publication of the Countryside Recreation Strategy the previous year. It is charged with the strategic development and management of countryside recreation across Northern Ireland.

Environment and Heritage Service

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C10 The Environment and Heritage Service, an agency within the Department of the Environment, manages seven country parks and two countryside centres and maintains a number of historic monuments that provide formal access to the countryside and attract large numbers of visitors each year. EHS also advises on the management of public land for nature conservation, heritage protection and informal recreation and seeks to encourage the use of public land for informal access wherever practicable. It has discretionary powers to give grant aid to local councils for the development of access opportunities.

Northern Ireland Housing Executive

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C11 The Northern Ireland Housing Executive owns and manages some 106,000 properties in Northern Ireland and is responsible for the management of approximately 1,350 hectares of green space in and around its housing estates. This land takes the form of larger strategic areas and smaller spaces and provides for general amenity, recreation and community use. Some of this land has been transferred to the Woodland Trust to help establish Community Woodlands.
C12 There are some Housing Executive estates, usually dating from the 1960’s and 1970’s, where the design has resulted in large areas of ill defined open space - typically taking up to 60% of the estate. Many of these areas have become problematic and difficult to manage. The Housing Executive is continuing to develop a strategic approach to the improvement of these estates through broad stakeholder involvement and by employing the design principles advocated by the Department’s Quality Initiative.
C13 In such cases it is considered that there can often be substantial community benefit in permitting the appropriate redevelopment of a part of the open space provision where this forms part of a package of measures aimed at restructuring the remaining areas and improving the overall estate layout. Such an approach could bring the following benefits:
  • The enhancement of strategic quality spaces, promoting improvements in the amenity, character and biodiversity of the area;
  • Improvements to the layout, giving better defensible space and community safety, thereby enhancing the long term viability and sustainability of the estate;
  • The provision of more social housing or specialised housing in cases where a strong local need may exist;
  • The facilitation of private and affordable housing, thus increasing tenure diversification; and
  • The facilitation of other appropriate uses, such as local community facilities.

Forest Service

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C14 Service, an agency within the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, operates a policy of open access and encouragement of the use of the forest estate for public recreation, outdoor pursuits and education. Forest recreation provides for a wide variety of interest groups, ranging from day trippers, walkers and caravanners, to those involved in more specialised activities such as orienteering and car rallying. During 2002-03 there were an estimated 2 million day visits made to Forest Service woodlands and almost 460,000 visitors to charged recreational areas.

The National Trust

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C15 The National Trust is the single largest private landowner in Northern Ireland. It owns and cares for over 40 square miles of scenic countryside, 60 miles of local coastline, 15 major coastal and countryside estates, including the Giant’s Causeway and Slieve Donard, and 9 major historic mansions and houses. The vast majority of the Trust’s sites can be visited and enjoyed by the public.
C16 The Woodland Trust is a charity dedicated to the preservation and creation of woodlands. It owns and manages some 50 woodland sites of varying size throughout Northern Ireland covering approximately 290 hectares. Most of these woodlands are open to the public.
C17 Playboard is an agency that provides advice on children’s play in Northern Ireland. Its aim is to improve the quality of children’s lives by increasing their opportunity to play. Playboard is working in partnership with a number of voluntary, public and private sector organisations to further this aim and has developed a number of area based play strategies.
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