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Ards and Down Area Plan 2015
Policy Framework: Environment and Conservation (Page 1 of 2)

Ards Borough and Down District are especially rich in varied landscapes, wildlife habitats and heritage features, which together distinguish their special character and identity. The two districts share the important environmental resource of Strangford Lough, an enclosed, tranquil stretch of marine water with an indented coastline of islands or halfdrowned drumlins and inlets on the western side and a smoother coastline on the east, both backed by wooded estates. Extensive mudflats are exposed at low tide at the northern end of the Lough, from the Comber River estuary to the shoreline of the Ards Peninsula. Both districts also share the distinctive drumlin landscape of County Down, which gives the landscape an intimate character and often prevents long distance views along public roads.
To the south-east, the rugged Lecale hills stretch from Downpatrick to Portaferry and are the centre of St Patrick’s Country. The Lecale coast from Strangford to Ballykinler is a predominantly flat and exposed landscape in contrast to the Mournes visible to the south-west. The distinctive stone wall farmed landscape and upland heather of the Mourne Mountains and Slieve Croob areas occupy the southern part of Down District with the rocky and exposed outer Ards coast to the east.
The high scenic quality and character of the landscape of the Plan area is reflected by the
designation of three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Strangford Lough, Lecale Coast and Mourne. National Park status for the Mournes has been under consideration but the outcome has yet to be determined. A public consultation exercise was recently completed involving all interested parties.
There are two Areas of High Scenic Value at Craigantlet and Magheraknock and parts of both are within the Plan area. The landscape character areas within the Ards Borough and Down District are described in the published Northern Ireland Landscape Character Assessment 2000 Series.
Biodiversity is the total variety of all living things and includes all animal and plant species. At the larger scale, biodiversity relates to the variation in landscapes and habitats and at the smallest scale to genetic differences in plants and animals. Biodiversity is vital to the health of the planet and to our own quality of life. Human activity can have both positive and negative influences on the distribution and diversity of plant and animal species in the Plan area and throughout Northern Ireland.
All the main habitat types are well represented within the Plan area. Improved grassland is the predominant land use, with habitat value within the dense network of boundary hedgerows and other linear features. Extensive areas of acid grassland are found in upland areas and margins. Woodland cover is least common, with small areas of semi-natural woodland on steep slopes and in river valleys.
The large number of inter-drumlin hollows within the area has given rise to small areas of wet woodland, raised bog or more commonly loughs, swamp or fens. Ards and Down also share a long and varied coastline featuring areas of internationally important sand dunes, salt marsh and mudflats.
The most common form of conserving biodiversity and geodiversity is the designation, protection and management of the best sites of nature conservation importance. A hierarchy of designations is available under European and National legislation and designation is primarily the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). Generally sites are selected for their rarity value or the diversity of species and habitats they contain or as a representative example of their habitat or geology type on a national or international scale. For example, sites of international importance comprise sites listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and European Sites (Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation) protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007. Collectively these European sites are known as “Natura 2000” sites.

Article 6 Assessment and Compliance with the Habitats Directive

Article 6 of the European Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC states that any plan or project likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. The Plan may be granted authorisation only on the condition that the Department is certain that it is not likely to have a significant adverse effect on the integrity of the sites concerned. The assessment should consider the impact of the Plan alone, cumulatively or in combination with any other relevant plans and projects likely to impact on the Natura 2000 sites concerned.
Accordingly, the Plan has been assessed as to its likely effects on the following Natura 2000 sites within or close to the Plan area:
• Strangford Lough Special Area of Conservation (SAC);
• Eastern Mournes SAC;
• Lecale Fens SAC;
• Hollymount SAC;
• Murlough SAC;
• Aughnadarragh Lough SAC;
• Turmennan SAC;
• Ballykilbeg SAC;
• Strangford Lough Special Protection Area (SPA);
• Outer Ards SPA;
• Killough Bay & Strand Lough SPA;
• Belfast Lough SPA;
• Belfast Lough Open Water SPA;
• Turmennan Ramsar;
• Killough Bay & Strand Lough Ramsar;
• Belfast Lough Ramsar;
• Strangford Lough Ramsar; and
• Outer Ards Ramsar.
An Appropriate Assessment Report is published along with the Plan. Any future planning application that is likely to have a significant impact on a Natura 2000 or Ramsar site will be subject to an Article 6 Assessment. Any future planning application will be considered in the context of the relevant proposals contained in the Plan and also prevailing regional policy. Where appropriate, hydrological Zones of Influence have been identified for Natura 2000 sites in line with the requirements of Planning Policy Statement 2 (PPS 2): Planning and Nature Conservation. Details of these are contained in the Appropriate Assessment Technical Supplement. An Article 6 Assessment will be carried out before development proceeds in respect of such built development or mineral extraction applications within these zones of influence. An assessment will also be carried out before any development proceeds in respect of any industrial development which will have aerial emissions that could result in likely significant adverse impact on a Natura or Ramsar site. This assessment should consider the impact of any project alone, cumulatively or in combination with any other relevant plans and projects within the vicinity of the above Natura 2000 sites. Where waste water treatment works capacity is not sufficient to cope with a proposed development at the time of a planning application, the developer will be required to work with the Department and Northern Ireland Water to ensure that there will be no likely adverse impact on any Natura 2000 or Ramsar site by providing interim sewerage treatment arrangements. Sites important in a national context include Areas of Special Scientific Interest and Nature Reserves, and sites of local importance for nature conservation include Wildlife Refuges, Local Nature Reserves established by District Councils and non-statutory nature reserves managed by public agencies or voluntary conservation bodies, as  well as other sites of local nature conservation importance highlighted in undertaking the Countryside Assessment. Management of these sites is generally achieved through regulation of activities and negotiation with landowners or government ownership. Strangford Lough is of outstanding value and importance as a marine habitat for a wealth of plant and bird life. Conservation of its habitats and wildlife is effected by a variety of statutory designations made under European Directives and regional legislation. A Strangford Lough Management Scheme is now in place to provide a monitor and control framework to ensure that human activities are not allowed to degrade the Lough’s key conservation features.
The story of human activity within the Plan area is illustrated by archaeological sites and monuments, vernacular and historic buildings, features and structures surviving from past  industries, planned parkland landscapes and in the pattern of streets and buildings in our historic townscapes. As a coastal area, there is also a particular maritime element in the local heritage. This heritage is finite and vulnerable and it is important that it be cherished and protected for future generations to enjoy as we do. The Plan area contains a wealth of buildings  listed as being of special architectural or historic interest, and a significant number of historic parks, gardens and demesnes of special historical interest. There are also 9 designated Conservation Areas in the Plan area.
Within the Plan Area there are a range of important archaeological sites, many of which are scheduled under the provisions of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995 and some are presently in the care of the Department. The interrelationship between the surrounding landscape and upstanding remains often heightens the appreciation of an archaeological site. The preservation of such sites and their settings is of the highest priority.
With ongoing archaeological survey work there may be changes to the exact location of these sites. Over the Plan period, additional archaeological remains may be discovered. The existence of such remains may represent a material change that can affect the nature of development that will be permitted in respect of an area within a settlement, or in the countryside.
In some cases, archaeological sites and monuments have formed the basis for, or contributed to the designation of Local Landscape Policy Areas. (see Plan Policy CON 2)
All these features are identified on the relevant maps included within the Plan.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency, (NIEA), is also responsible for safeguarding the quality of air, water and land through safe and sustainable waste disposal, monitoring standards, enforcing legislation, controlling pollution and raising awareness of the problems and their causes. Their aim, to improve the marine and freshwater aquatic environments, is particularly significant given the high number of rivers, loughs and lakes and the amount of coastline within the Plan area.

Regional Policy Context

The Regional Development Strategy, (RDS), is based on the guiding principle of protection and enhancement of the environment through an approach to development and policy formulation, which has the condition of the environment as a central deciding factor. One of the key regional challenges will therefore be to accommodate future development growth while protecting and caring for the environment. The RDS includes the following strategic planning guidelines:
• to conserve the natural environment (SPGENV 1);
• to protect and manage the Northern Ireland coastline (SPG-ENV 2);
• to conserve the built environment (SPGENV 3);
• to foster a stronger community spirit and sense of place in relation to local development proposals in urban and rural areas by the use of Local Development Guidelines (SPG-ENV 4);
• to respond to the implications of climate change and promote more prudent and efficient use of energy and resources, and effective waste management (SPG-ENV 5); and
• to create healthier living environments and to support healthy lifestyles (SPG-ENV 6).
The Department’s regional planning policies for the protection of conservation interests are currently set out in Planning Policy Statement 2, (PPS 2): Planning and Nature Conservation, and Planning Policy Statement 6, (PPS 6): Planning, Archaeology and the Built Heritage and Addendum. In addition, the Department published the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Strategy in August 2002.
The remainder of the Department’s regional planning policies in relation to the environment including protection of rural landscapes and the coast, assessment of environmental effects of proposals and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are currently set out within the Department’s A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland (the Rural Strategy
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