Planning Portal

Design Guide for Rural Northern Ireland
Planning Context

Planning policies for development in the countryside are set out in the Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland published in September 1993.
Development in the countryside is controlled on the basis of planning and environmental considerations. The building of single houses is regulated in terms of the capacity of the landscape to absorb further development, due to visual impact, and other environmental consequences. Where it is considered necessary to protect landscapes from excessive or inappropriate development, Green Belts are designated around cities and towns, and Countryside Policy Areas elsewhere. The locations of Green Belts and Countryside Policy Areas are established through the development plan process and are generally set out in the relevant Area Plan.
Planning permission will be granted for the erection of a building in the countryside which is:
  • in a locality which has the capacity to absorb another building, without adverse impact on visual amenity;
  • on a site which can be visually integrated into the landscape; and
  • of an appropriate design for the locality;
and provided it meets other planning criteria and policy requirements.


In practice, the location of a new development frequently determines its prominence and the degree of visual impact it will have on the landscape. In assessing the potential impact of a development, particular regard will be had to the quality and nature of the landscape in the locality and at the site.


A new building in the countryside will be acceptable if, when viewed from the surrounding vantage points, it meets all of the following criteria:
  • it blends sympathetically with landform;
  • it uses existing trees, buildings, slopes or other natural features to provide a backdrop;
  • it uses an identifiable site with long established boundaries, which separate the site naturally from the surrounding ground; and
  • it does not spoil any scenic aspect or detract from the visual appearance of the countryside.
Each development proposal will be assessed and considered acceptable if:
  • it is positioned sensitively along with a group of buildings such as a farm complex;
  • it adopts the spacing of a dispersed pattern of settlement and has integrated sensitively with the existing land forms so as to blend unobtrusively with its surroundings, and;
  • it avoids contributing to a build up of development in any particular locality, so as to cause a change in the rural character of that area.


Landscaping, garden areas and the design and type of site boundaries are all important visual elements in the countryside and can add significantly to the setting and integration of a building.
New buildings should be sited to take advantage of natural or previously planted features which could provide protection and integration.


Access should be taken from existing lanes, where available. Otherwise access roads and driveways should respect field boundaries and site contours, thus integrating the dwelling with its entrance and site.
The traditional field pattern should be preserved and roadside and field boundary hedges and stone walls retained or reinstated following any access works.


Traditional buildings are a familiar part of the rural scene, and their design follows well understood buildings practices which give the buildings their characteristic appearance. Modern development should respect the rural context and contemporary design solutions should demonstrate an informed use of traditional references.
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