02/05/2012 01:09 EST | Updated 04/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Charest boosts protected areas in Quebec's northern development plan

MONTREAL - Facing pressure from conservation groups, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has promised to increase the number of protected areas in the province's northern development plan.

Charest announced Sunday that 20 per cent of the land included in the government's much-vaunted Plan Nord will be protected from any development by 2020. That's up from the 12 per cent announced earlier.

“No other government in the world has protected an area so vast in such a short span of time,” Charest said at a news conference in Montreal.

The Plan Nord was originally announced last May and aims for a variety of mining, forestry, hydroelectric and tourism projects spread over a 1.2-million-square kilometre stretch of Quebec's north.

In all, Charest said the goal is to protect 50 per cent of the area from major industrial development by 2035.

When the project was first announced, Charest billed it as "one of the most important sustainable projects for the world'' and said it would create 500,000 jobs over 25 years.

But Charest has taken heat from some environmental and First Nations groups over the scope of the project.

Last November, Quebec's Pessamit Innu said the Plan Nord violated the rights of aboriginal people and "rapes" their land.