Planning Portal

PPS 8: Open Space, Sport and Outdoor Recreation
Policy OS 1

Policy OS 1 Protection of Open Space
The Department will not permit development that would result in th loss of existing open space or land zoned for the provision of open space. The presumption against the loss of existing open space will apply irrespective of its physical condition and appearance.
An exception will be permitted where it is clearly shown that redevelopment will bring substantial community benefits that decisively outweigh the loss of the open space.
An exception will also be permitted where it is demonstrated that the loss of open space will have no significant detrimental impact on the amenity, character or biodiversity of an area and where either of the following circumstances occur;
  • in the case of an area of open space of 2 hectares or less, alternative provision is made by the developer which is at least as accessible to current users and at least equivalent in terms of size, usefulness, attractiveness, safety and quality; or
  • in the case of playing fields and sports pitches within settlement limits, it is demonstrated by the developer that the retention and enhancement of the facility can only be achieved by the development of a small part of the existing space - limited to a maximum of 10% of the overall area - and this will have no adverse effect on the sporting potential of the facility. This exception will be exercised only once.

Justification and Amplification

5.1 Open space is essential in any community for both amenity and recreation purposes and often contributes positively to the character, attractiveness and vitality of our cities, towns and villages. It provides areas for play - an essential element in the development of all children – and enhances the quality of the residential environment. It can also provide valuable areas for nature conservation and biodiversity, act as a buffer between conflicting land uses, help reduce flood risk, promote pedestrian linkages and provide ‘green lungs’ that can assist in meeting objectives to improve air quality. Ultimately open space and the use of such space contributes to the health and quality of life for all.
5.2 In recent years there has been growing public concern at the loss of open space to alternative uses. The use of land as open space, however, is no less important than other uses. It is a valuable resource and the Department attaches great importance to its retention, for once built on it is almost certainly lost to the community forever. Accordingly, the Department will operate a general presumption against the loss of open space to competing land uses.
5.3 The protection of open space is particularly important in urban areas where competing development pressures are greatest. Indeed, its retention and enhancement is now all the more important in support of the drive for urban renaissance. The aim of urban renaissance is to create a more sustainable form of development by encouraging compact urban forms and promoting more housing within existing urban areas without town cramming. This, however, should not lead to a loss of amenity and indeed places greater emphasis on the need to maintain a well-distributed, well-connected and accessible supply of open space. For this reason, open space of public value does not fall within the definition of ‘brownfield / previously-developed sites’.
5.4 The protection and enhancement of sporting and outdoor recreational facilities in urban areas may also reduce the demand for such activities in the countryside. This can sometimes help provide relief for more fragile environments in the rural area.
5.5 The Department will permit an exception to the presumption against loss of open space where development would produce such community benefit that this would decisively outweigh its loss. In such cases, applicants will generally be expected to demonstrate that their proposals are supported by the local community.
5.6 It is also recognised that development can on occasion provide an opportunity to recreate open space or outdoor recreational facilities in an alternative location to substitute for the loss of an existing open space or facility. This approach will only be considered for areas of 2 hectares or less and a key factor in assessing proposals will be the accessibility of the proposed new space to all the users of the existing space. It should not be assumed, however, that the Department will automatically grant permission when alternative provision is proposed. Existing open space is often of considerable value to the amenity, character and biodiversity of a local area and therefore worthy of protection in its own right.
5.7 Where an exchange is acceptable in principle the Department will secure this through use of planning conditions or, where appropriate, a Planning Agreement under Article 40 of the Planning (NI) Order 1991. This will tie redevelopment to the provision of the new facility and ensure that this is capable of being maintained adequately through appropriate management agreements.
5.8 In relation to playing fields and sports pitches in urban areas, there may be exceptional circumstances where it is demonstrated that the retention and enhancement of the facility can only be achieved by the redevelopment of a part of the area. This can, however, be detrimental to the quality and value of such facilities and call into question their overall viability. Consideration will therefore only be given to redevelopment proposals that are judged to have no adverse effect on the sporting potential or overall amenity value of the open space and which are restricted to an area no greater than 10% of the total site.
5.9 The above exception will be applied only once to guard against the piecemeal erosion of playing fields and sports pitches by a succession of small developments, possibly over a long period of time. In addition, the grant of planning permission will normally be reliant on the applicant entering into an Article 40 Planning Agreement tying the financial gain arising from redevelopment to the retention and enhancement of the open space facility.
5.10 All proposals for the alternative use of open space will be assessed with regard to their effect on the amenity, character and biodiversity of the area and the wider locality and taking into account the needs of future generations. Any deterioration in the appearance or condition of open space due to inadequate management or maintenance, however, will not be sufficient justification in itself for the loss of the open space to alternative uses.
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