Ards and Down Area Plan 2015
Policy Framework: Settlement
The estimated 2001 population of Ards Borough and Down District was 73,200 and 63,800 respectively. Approximately 80 per cent of the household population of Ards Borough live within its 16 towns and villages, whilst 62 per cent of the Down District household population live within its 17 towns and villages. Newtownards in Ards Borough and Downpatrick in Down District function as the major centres for housing, employment, retail, professional services and for cultural activities, including sport and leisure.
The 2001 Census confirms that 59% of the population of Ards Borough live in the main town, Newtownards and the two small towns, Comber and Donaghadee, which are located around the outside edge of the Belfast Metropolitan Area. In contrast, 36% of Down District’s population live in the main town of Downpatrick and the two small towns of Ballynahinch and Newcastle.
The smaller towns and villages perform a lesser, but locally significant role, in providing housing, employment and services. Villages in Down District are generally larger than those in Ards, in particular Castlewellan, Saintfield, Crossgar and Killyleagh, offering a wide range of services and facilities to the rural community. The range of services available in villages in Ards Borough, other than Portaferry, is generally more limited.
Small settlements, at the lower end of the settlement hierarchy, provide a community focus for their immediate rural area but are limited in their infrastructure, services and employment provision and offer only very limited growth potential.
Regional Policy Context
Each tier of settlement has a specific role to play in the Spatial Development Strategy, which is central to the Regional Development Strategy, (RDS). The Spatial Development Strategy is a framework for the future physical development of the Region and identifies a hierarchy of rural settlements based on:
- main hubs, (also referred to as main towns), which are settlements with a population between 10,000 and 30,000;
- local hubs, (also referred to as small towns), which are settlements with a population of between 5,000 and 10,000;
- villages; and
- small rural settlements
The Strategy states that future levels of growth of each town will vary, depending on a range of factors such as strategic location, the size of its population and its catchment, the range of employment, infrastructure and services available and the quality of the environment and living conditions.
Newtownards and Downpatrick are identified as Main Hubs or Main Towns in the Spatial Development Strategy. It states that due weight needs to be given to reinforcing their leading roles as the major centres of administration, cultural and leisure amenities, employment and services. They will have a leading role in accommodating the need for urban housing in each council area. Both towns are considered potentially as counter magnets to the Belfast Metropolitan Area, which should develop according to their individual capacities and growth potential.
The Spatial Development Strategy identifies both Ballynahinch and Comber as Local Hubs, the planned expansion of which may be required to meet housing need related to the Belfast Metropolitan Area. Newcastle is also identified as a Local Hub.
Villages also have a specific role as identified in the Spatial Development Strategy. They are market centres, providing employment and services. The Strategy refers to the need to sustain and consolidate the role of villages as local rural service centres. It distinguishes between those villages that have experienced excessive levels of growth, disproportionate to their services and infrastructure, and those in decline and in need of revitalisation.
Small settlements provide local housing opportunities for rural dwellers wishing to continue living in the countryside. Consequently, a portion of the regional housing indicator for each district will be accommodated within small settlements and the open countryside.
Within the Belfast Metropolitan Area travel-to-work hinterland, which includes much of the Plan area, the Strategy highlights the need to consolidate villages and small rural settlements, to resist their large scale expansion, and the development of entirely new settlements, in order to support and to reinforce main towns, to make best use of past investment in infrastructure and services, and to conserve resources.
Proposals for major growth in a village or small settlement, or the creation of a new settlement, are to be tested against the principles supporting the Spatial Development Strategy, and within the BMA travel-to-work hinterland, specifically against Strategic Planning Guidance (SPG-RNI 3),
- “To support the network of service centres based on small towns and villages in rural Northern Ireland”.
A strong network of vibrant main and small towns, supported by the villages, is stated in the Strategy to be vital to sustaining and servicing the rural community.
A settlement limit is designated for each town, village and small settlement in the Plan area, including Ballygalget in Ards Borough and Drumaghlis in Down District, two additional small settlements. Land is zoned for the principal land uses within Newtownards, Downpatrick, Comber, Donaghadee, Ballynahinch and Newcastle. Proposals for the defined settlement limits are set out in Volumes 2 and 3 of the Plan.
Settlement limits are defined following a detailed assessment of each settlement in accordance with regional policy as part of the Countryside Assessment. This involved a detailed analysis of each settlement, including specific roles and functions, environmental issues, availability of services, community facilities, infrastructure and spare capacity, and current development pressures. Detailed consultation has been carried out with other statutory bodies.
Settlement limits will facilitate compact, properly structured and appropriately scaled local growth, protect the character of each settlement and constrain both ribbon development and urban sprawl in the countryside.
In some settlements the identified limit to development is defined to exclude lands within the current settlement limit. A reduction in the extent of current settlement limits is justified where the capacity for development within existing limits is incompatible with a sustainable distribution of development throughout the district and is therefore inconsistent with the policies and guidance contained in the RDS. Less extensive settlement limits are also identified to protect visual amenity in a number of localities. Caravan sites on the inner edge of existing settlement limits have been excluded to avoid their unplanned development for housing and loss of valuable tourism accommodation. Similarly existing playing fields in such locations are excluded since their recreational purposes are appropriate and will be protected in areas where rural policies apply.
Development proposals in the towns, villages and small settlements of the Plan area will be considered in the context of prevailing planning policy and of relevant policies and proposals in the Plan. In towns, and in some of the villages and small settlements, Key Design Considerations are provided which are specific to the development of particular sites. Development proposals will be tested against these requirements.
Within the settlement limits there exists within the urban fabric incidental parcels of land which are neither built-up nor zoned for a particular use. Any future development proposals on such areas must satisfy prevailing policy requirements, for example, Planning Policy Statement 15 (PPS 15): Planning and Flood Risk in which there is a presumption against development on lands subject to flooding.
Settlement limits and land use zonings are shown in the settlement maps. Specific requirements and guidance for each settlement and for zoned sites are provided in the Settlement Proposals Section in Volumes 2 and 3 of the Plan.
In addition development proposals in Land Use Policy Areas will be subject to the requirements of all prevailing planning policy.
It is not the Department’s practice to zone lands for specific purposes within villages and small settlements. Zoning creates a degree of inflexibility in the development of those lands which can frustrate the orderly development of smaller settlements if the lands are not made available for the intended use, or the zoning prevents an alternative suitable use of the land.
Land Use Policy Areas identify lands considered to be particularly appropriate for specific types of development. For example, they identify lands which can make a key contribution to the amount of housing growth allocated to a village or small settlement. They are also used to identify sites which are particularly suitable for industrial or business use, or for which there is a clear indication of potential demand for such use.
Development requirements are set out for each Land Use Policy Area in the relevant settlement section in Volumes 2 and 3 of the Plan.
Development Opportunity Sites are identified in Newtownards, Comber and Donaghadee in Ards Borough, and in Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and Newcastle in Down District.
Development Opportunity Sites are identified where lands are under¬utilised or vacant and where development, which might provide a mix of new uses, could promote the vitality and viability of the urban area or town centre, or could enhance the townscape, for example by closing frontage gaps or by replacing unattractive features. Such development within a town centre could enhance shopping frontages, encourage pedestrian movement and so assist commercial growth.
Proposals to develop these sites will be considered in the context of prevailing regional planning policy and guidance, and the policies and guidance contained in this Plan. Development requirements for each site are provided in the relevant Settlement section in Volumes 2 and 3 of the Plan.
The initiation of development proposals for identified sites will be a matter for landowners and interested developers.