Planning Portal

Ards and Down Area Plan 2015
Countryside: Regional Policy Context

The overall aim of the Spatial Development Strategy, which is central to the RDS in rural Northern Ireland is:
  • to develop an attractive and prosperous rural area, based on a balanced and integrated approach to the development of town, village and countryside, in order to sustain a strong and vibrant rural community, contributing to the overall well-being of the Region as a whole.
Three of the five strategic objectives, which address that aim by applying the principles of sustainable development, are:
  • to develop a living and working countryside which recognises the unique rural character of the Region and contributes to a sense of belonging in local rural areas;
  • to promote the continuing renewal and revitalisation of towns and villages in Rural Northern Ireland; and
  • to manage and enhance the natural and built heritage in rural areas.
In support of these objectives, Strategic Policy Guidelines are established;
  • 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 main towns, small towns and villages in Rural Northern Ireland (SPG-RNI 3); 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).
The RDS requires that in allocating the Housing Growth Indicators within each district, judgements should be made to achieve a complementary urban/rural balance of growth. It also states that analysis of population balance can facilitate an evaluation of the relationship between towns and their rural hinterland. This evaluation should inform the development of the district growth strategy to achieve optimal balance between settlements.
Measures outlined in the RDS to create and sustain an attractive rural environment include, managing rural resources by designating Countryside Policy Areas (CPAs) to protect valued landscapes, and controlling development in areas under pressure for development by means of Green Belt designation. Such pressures are often caused by townspeople moving to live in the countryside, particularly in the main commuter zone around the BMA.
The Spatial Development Strategy of the RDS also includes the objective of establishing a Belfast Metropolitan Area Green Belt. Precise delineation of the Green Belt is to be considered in the context of development plans, informed by the Northern Ireland Landscape Character Assessment (NILCA).
The whole of the Ards Borough, including the Ards Peninsula is within the area defined in the Spatial Development Strategy as the Belfast Metropolitan Area “travel-to-work” hinterland, and the Peninsula is within the approximate extent of the strategic BMA Green Belt as indicated on Key Diagram 4 of the Strategy document.
The approximate extent of the strategic BMA Green Belt also includes much of the countryside south-west of Downpatrick. Moreover, the whole of Down District is defined in the RDS as part of the Belfast Metropolitan Area “travel-to-work” hinterland.
The approximate extent of the BMA Green Belt excludes much of the Lecale area. However, the Lecale is within the defined BMA “travel-to¬work” area.
At the time of the formulation of the Draft Plan prevailing regional policy, including the objectives of Green Belt and CPA designation and the policies for the control of development within those designations was contained in “A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland”, (PSRNI).
Prevailing regional policy for the countryside of Ards and Down is now contained within Draft Planning Policy 21 (Draft PPS 21): ‘Sustainable Development in the Countryside’. The policy provisions of Draft PPS 21 take precedence over published draft plans, existing statutory plans and the policy provisions of PSRNI in respect of Green Belts and CPAs.
Draft PPS 21 proposes a single tier approach to replace the existing two tier rural policy framework based on Green Belts/CPAs and the remainder of the rural area. At the time of the adoption of the Plan, Draft PPS 21 remains subject to public consultation and the future form of rural policy in Ards and Down will depend on the outcome of this process. In these circumstances the Department considers that the Plan should continue to refer to and delineate Green Belts and CPA coverage for Ards Borough and Down District, should they be required for the operation of rural policy following the outcome of the Draft PPS 21 public consultation exercise. These will only become operative in the rural policy context should the final PPS 21 revert to a two tier rural policy framework based on Green Belts/CPAs and the remainder of the rural area.
Draft PPS 21 will continue to take precedence over the provisions of the adopted Ards and Down Plan, pending the completion of its public consultation process. The policy content of the final PPS 21, when decided, will take precedence over the final Plan.  
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