A public consultation has opened on Northern Ireland’s first-ever Rural Policy Framework. The framework aims to create a sustainable rural community where people want to live, work and be active. Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots launched the consultation during a number of visits to rural dwellers and projects in the Mid-Ulster area. Projects the minister visited included:
  • The Tyrone Old Brick Factory, Dungannon;
  • The Mid-Ulster Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Coalisland;
  • Loughry College, Cookstown; and
  • Ballyronan Marina in Magherafelt.
Speaking about the launch, Minister Poots said: “Around 36% of people in Northern Ireland live in a rural setting.
The sector is vital to our economy, with around 60% of our VAT and PAYE registered businesses located there and around 20% of our employee jobs in rural businesses.
"The businesses and projects I’ve visited are testimony to the innovation, resilience and drive we see across this sector. It’s therefore so important that we protect, encourage and enhance rural communities to ensure their long-term sustainability. “Northern Ireland has never had its own Rural Framework Policy and this is the first time we’ll be able to create one that’s completely tailored to our unique circumstances, demographically, geographically and that has stakeholders at its heart. “People living in rural communities face particular challenges such as reduced connectivity, poorer health, lack of access to employment and inferior infrastructure. This framework aims to create a sustainable rural community where people want to live, work and be active.”

What's in the Rural Policy Framework?

The framework focuses on five pillars, which include:
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship;
  • Sustainable Tourism;
  • Health and Well-being;
  • Employment; and
  • Connectivity.
It also includes associated priorities for intervention and is described as a 'living document', meaning it will be flexible enough to respond to emerging rural issues as they happen. The department will run several online webinars during the consultation which will be open to all members of the public. Minister Poots said: “This is a significant and important piece of work that has involved a wide range of stakeholders in its development.
The framework aims to identify the needs and opportunities of our rural dwellers going forward over the next seven years.
“I want rural dwellers to have their say and tell us what they think about the framework, this is vitally important. "My officials will be holding a number of webinars over the consultation period and I would encourage members of the public to take part in these and to go online and let us know what they think through the Citizenspace website. "Once the consultation is complete and approved, my officials will draft a new Rural Business and Community Investment Programme that will ensure that we support a sustainable rural Northern Ireland going forward.” The consultation will run through Citizen Space until September 6.