Planning Portal

PPS 8: Open Space, Sport and Outdoor Recreation
Policy OS 3

Policy OS 3 Outdoor Recreation in the Countryside
The Department will permit the development of proposals for outdoor recreational use in the countryside where all the following criteria are met:
  1. there is no adverse impact on features of importance to nature conservation, archaeology or built heritage;
  2. there is no permanent loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land and no unacceptable impact on nearby agricultural activities;
  3. there is no adverse impact on visual amenity or the character of the local landscape and the development can be readily absorbed into the landscape by taking advantage of existing vegetation and/or topography;
  4. there is no unacceptable impact on the amenities of people living nearby;
  5. public safety is not prejudiced and the development is compatible with other countryside uses in terms of the nature, scale, extent and frequency or timing of the recreational activities proposed;
  6. any ancillary buildings or structures are designed to a high standard, are of a scale appropriate to the local area and are sympathetic to the surrounding environment in terms of their siting, layout and landscape treatment;
  7. the proposed facility takes into account the needs of people with disabilities and is, as far as possible, accessible by means of transport other than the private car; and
  8. the road network can safely handle the extra vehicular traffic the proposal will generate and satisfactory arrangements are provided for access, parking, drainage and waste disposal.

Justification and Amplification

5.24 The Countryside Recreation Strategy for Northern Ireland 2 highlights the importance of the countryside for recreation, and acknowledges the contribution this can make to the rural economy and the promotion of tourism. This strategy advises that the spatially extensive and diverse nature of the Northern Ireland countryside lends itself to the provision of opportunities for a wide range of countryside recreation activities for both the local population and for an increasing number of tourists.
5.25 Hill walking, rambling, cycling and angling are among the most popular countryside recreational pursuits. There is also a growing number of people now taking part in activities such as horse riding, golf, orienteering, mountain biking, rowing, sailing and canoeing. Such activities often bring with them a resulting need for ancillary facilities.
5.26 Government policy seeks to encourage farm diversification and thereby strengthen the rural economy. In recent years this has generated an increasing number of proposals for sporting and outdoor recreational activities in the countryside. There is, however, growing concern regarding the environmental impact of certain countryside pursuits and their related developments. The Department is aware of these concerns and wishes to ensure that new recreational development in the countryside is sustainable and does not conflict with the need to preserve, and wherever possible, enhance our environment for future generations.
5.27 In locations designated for their landscape, nature conservation or heritage importance, special care is needed in assessing proposals. It may be possible to meet the demand for outdoor recreation use so far as this is consistent with the conservation or enhancement of the interest for which the site or area is designated. The Department’s policies for the protection of sites of nature conservation importance are set out in PPS 2 ‘Planning and Nature Conservation’, while policies to protect our historic environment are contained in PPS 6 ‘Planning, Archaeology and the Built Heritage’.
5.28 In assessing proposals, the Department will take account of the nature of the sporting or outdoor recreational activity and the ability of the land or the landscape to sustain that activity in the long term. The natural qualities inherent in certain areas, notably their silence, solitude or remoteness, also need to be considered. One location may be suitable for some pursuits but not others, while others may be suitable for a cluster of activities.
5.29 The impact of development associated with certain outdoor recreational uses can be reduced by careful attention to scale, siting, layout, design and landscaping details. Any proposed activity or development should not, however, become a dominant feature in the landscape. In some cases, therefore, the provision of ancillary facilities may need to be severely limited or even prohibited.

Golf Courses

5.30 The development of golf courses can facilitate agricultural diversification and encourage tourism, but can also have a detrimental impact on the environment particularly because of the scale of such development. Golf courses and ancillary development associated with them can have a significant visual impact on the countryside. Poor siting, design and management can lead to loss of valuable landscapes or habitats. Golf courses should be located in harmony with the local landscape and designed to conserve the natural environment. Existing tree cover should be integrated into schemes and where additional planting is proposed preference will be given to native species. In addition attention should be given, where possible, to habitat creation and the management and protection of wildlife networks.
5.31 The Department will carefully consider the impact of proposals for the development of golf courses on the landscape and wider environmental qualities of the countryside. Each proposal should contain full details of the site and its immediate environs, including the effect on any public rights of way together with information on potential adverse impacts or environmental benefits associated with the development. These details should include information on landscaping and land levels, both existing and proposed, access arrangements, car parking and ancillary facilities such as a clubhouse. Where appropriate the Department will use its powers contained in the General Development Order to request applicants to supply such additional information on the proposed development as is considered necessary to allow proper determination.

Golf Driving Ranges

5.32 Golf driving ranges are generally more intensive land uses than golf courses with different visitor patterns and potentially higher levels of traffic generation. The buildings or the galleries, especially if they are two-tier, can be particularly intrusive unless sensitively sited and designed. Driving ranges often need high safety fencing and generally seek floodlighting to permit evening use. These features mean that driving ranges will generally only be acceptable where they will not be detrimental to the natural environment, the local landscape setting and the general character of the locality. Policy OS 7 sets out the Department’s policy on the floodlighting of recreational facilities.

Equestrian Uses

5.33 The keeping and riding of horses for recreational purposes is increasingly popular in many parts of the countryside. Outdoor participatory recreational uses such as riding schools will normally be considered acceptable in principle, provided the scale of ancillary buildings is appropriate to its location and can be integrated into their landscape surroundings. Wherever possible, consideration should be given to the reuse of existing traditional or redundant farm buildings in association with such proposals.

Noisy Sports

5.34 Some outdoor recreational activities have the potential to generate high levels of noise and it is therefore necessary to pay special regard to the siting and location of such activities. Policy OS 5 sets out the Department’s policy on noise generating sports and recreation activities.

Temporary Recreational Uses

5.35 Part 4 of the Planning (General Development) Order (NI) 1993 provides rights for the temporary use of land for a specified number of days each year. These rights are often used to facilitate certain sporting and outdoor recreational activities, such as clay pigeon shooting and certain equestrian activities. On occasion proposals are submitted to develop permanent buildings or structures in support of such temporary uses. Generally these will only be acceptable where the Department considers use of the site on a permanent basis would of itself be acceptable.

Additional Development based on Recreational Use

5.36 Certain sports or outdoor recreation activities may on occasion create a demand for additional development, such as holiday chalets or a hotel. While it is acknowledged that such facilities can improve the attractiveness of an area to tourists and in turn bring employment benefits, they must be considered on their own planning merits. The existence of an outdoor recreational use, such as a golf course, will not therefore in itself provide the justification for approving an associated development if this would not be acceptable in its own right.
2 A Countryside Recreation Strategy for Northern Ireland, A Report by the Countryside Recreation Working Group co-sponsored by the Sports Council for NI and the Envionment and Heritage Service, 1998.
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