Northern Ireland Planning Service

Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015
Introduction: Regional Policy Context

Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025 (RDS).

The Regional Development Strategy was agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly in September 2001. It sets out an overarching framework for Northern Ireland to help achieve a strong balanced economy, a healthy environment and an inclusive society. The Plan is required by the Planning (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 to be “in general conformity” with the RDS.
The RDS reflects the international, national and local commitment to a sustainable approach to accommodating growth within Northern Ireland. This principle is firmly established in the European Spatial Development Strategy, which is an important policy framework adopted by member states within the European Union. At national level, the Government has prepared ‘A Better Quality of Life’, a UK-wide strategy for sustainable development.
Against this background and through a process of public consultation, the RDS developed a Shared Vision for Northern Ireland. From this Shared Vision, Guiding Principles were formed and these in turn shaped the Spatial Development Strategy (SDS) and the Strategic Planning Guidelines (SPGs) proposedin the RDS for the Region as a whole. A key component of the SDS is the concept of a BMA which was to be developed as:
“a compact dynamic metropolitan core centred on Belfast, the major regional gateway and focal point of the Regional Strategic Transport Network, balanced by the development of the main towns in the ‘travel to work’ hinterland as counter-magnets with significant planned expansion of seven small towns close to the Belfast Metropolitan Area”.
The RDS outlines a Spatial Development Strategy for the location of future growth within the BMA* and its ‘travel to work’ hinterland. It identifies the need for a balance to be struck between concentration and decentralisation. Expansionof the BMA* is to be contained and channelled to maintain a compact city complex and protect the city setting.
This balance is to be achieved by encouraging revitalisation within the Metropolitan Area* and by provision for major areas of planned lateral expansion on the key transport corridors at Lisburn and Newtownabbey and on smaller sites to be identified in the Plan. Outside the Plan Area, decentralisation is to be achieved through development of the main towns of Antrim, Downpatrick, Larne and Newtownards in the BMA hinterland, together with the neighbouring main towns of Banbridge and Craigavon.
Decentralisation is also to be achieved through accommodation of growth related to the BMA* by the significant planned expansion of the seven small towns of Ballyclare, Ballynahinch, Carryduff, Comber, Crumlin, Dromore and Moira. Of these seven towns Ballyclare, Carryduff and Moira are within the Plan Area.
Developing the process to a further stage, the RDS sets out a list of strategic objectives for the BMA* which are the outcomes it seeks to achieve for the area. These are as follows:
  • a reinforced role as the regional capital and focus of administration, commerce, specialised services and cultural amenities;
  • a stronger role for Belfast as an international city;
  • an important complementary role for the City of Lisburn and the Boroughs of Bangor and Carrickfergus maintaining their distinctive identities, and for the suburban districts of Castlereagh and Newtownabbey;
  • revitalised Metropolitan Area* maintaining a polycentric pattern of development focused on existing local centres and with a strong emphasis on continuing physical renewal and ‘brownfield’ housing within the existing urban area, to support and sustain existing communities;
  • the regeneration of areas of social need;
  • a compact Metropolitan Area* with a protected environmental setting and an enhanced quality of urban environment;
  • the location of new development to reinforce better integration between land use and transportation; and
  • the development of a modern integrated and inclusive transport system.
The Strategic Planning Guidelines (SPGs) for the BMA* provide guidance for the development of the detailed Plan Proposals. The five SPGs for the BMA* are as follows:
  • to create a thriving Metropolitan Area* centred on a revitalised city of Belfast (SPG–BMA 1);
  • to promote an urban renaissance throughout the Belfast Metropolitan Area* (SPG–BMA 2);
  • to develop and enhance the Metropolitan Transport Corridor (MTC) Network (SPG–BMA 3);
  • to improve the public transport service in the Belfast Metropolitan Area* (SPG–BMA 4); and
  • to manage travel demand within the Belfast Metropolitan Area* (SPG-BMA 5).
The five SPGs for Rural Northern Ireland which apply to the Metropolitan Rural
area are:
  • to maintain a working countryside with a strong mixed use rural economy (SPG-RNI 1);
  • to create and sustain a living countryside with a high quality of life for all its residents (SPG-RNI 2);
  • to support the network of service centres based on the main towns, small towns and villages in Rural Northern Ireland (SPG-RNI 3);
  • to create an accessible countryside with a responsive transport network that meets the needs of the rural community (SPG-RNI 4); and
  • to continue to create and sustain an attractive and unique rural environment in the interests of the rural community and the Region as a whole (SPG-RNI 5).
In addition, the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) sets policy directions in the SPGs for major land uses, which are significant to the preparation of the Plan. The RDS identifies a clear change of direction towards more sustainable forms of housing and sets a regional target of 60% for the location of urban housing growth within urban footprints of the cities and towns of Northern Ireland with over 5000 population. It recognises the potential of Belfast to accommodate much more housing within its built up area (SPG-HOU 4) and promotes greater integration between transportation and land use.
The SPGs relevant to each land use are identified in the relevant sections of Part 3 of the Plan.
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