Draft PPS14: Sustainable Development in the Countryside
1.1 A major thrust of the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025 (RDS) published in September 2001 is to promote more sustainable patterns of development.
1.2 The RDS states that the cumulative impact of development in the countryside has the potential to reduce its value as a regional asset by damaging landscape, biodiversity and natural habitats and to create additional and unnecessary problems for the supply of infrastructure and services.
1.3 Since the RDS was formulated there have been significant numbers of planning approvals for dwellings in the countryside1.
1.4 The policy provisions of the Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland did not envisage the very high rates of applications to build in the countryside received in the recent past. The increasing number of planning approvals, especially of single dwellings, since the introduction of the RDS raised significant concerns that an unsustainable development trend was emerging. It was considered that this was threatening the unique character of the countryside as a regional asset and also the quality of the environment upon which we all depend.
1.5 In June 2004, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) published an Issues Paper entitled “Sustainable Development in the Countryside” to elicit views on the issues facing rural areas in Northern Ireland and on the future policy direction for the control of development in rural areas. Almost ninety written responses were received from a wide spectrum of political, community and environmental interest groups. In general terms, there was almost a 50/50 split on the issue of retaining or removing the presumption in favour of building in the open countryside. However, the majority of respondents were agreed that the level of development prevailing at that time was unsustainable and that action was required to take greater control of development.
1.6 In response to these concerns DRD published Draft PPS 14 ‘Sustainable Development in the Countryside’ on 16 March 2006. It was accompanied by a Ministerial Statement by the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with responsibility for DRD, Shaun Woodward, which advised that the provisions of the Draft PPS took immediate precedence over existing rural planning policies and should therefore be accorded substantial weight in the determination of planning applications received after 16 March 2006.
1.7 The planning policies contained in Draft PPS 14 were introduced to address the significant development pressure affecting rural Northern Ireland. Shaun Woodward concluded that, in the public interest, action designed to minimise irreversible environmental damage could not be delayed and through his statement he sought to address substantial concerns that the policy direction of Draft PPS 14 could be seriously frustrated by a large influx of planning applications.
1.8 The introduction of Draft PPS 14 by DRD provoked a widespread debate about rural planning and over 8,500 responses were received to the public consultation.
1.9 A judicial review challenging Draft PPS 14 was subsequently lodged. In his judgement of 7 September 2007 Mr Justice Gillen concluded that DRD did not have the statutory power to prepare and issue draft PPS 14.
1.10 In light of the court judgement the Minister of the Environment, Arlene Foster, has issued a Ministerial Statement advising that the Department of the Environment is assuming responsibility for PPS 14, and its ongoing review. The Minister has also advised that there is still good reason to proceed as previously with a precautionary approach pending the completion of the PPS 14 policy review process.
1.11 Accordingly the Minister has decided in the public interest as an interim measure to reissue the policy provisions of Draft PPS 14 under the powers conferred by Article 3 of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. These are set out in this document.
1.12 Furthermore the Minister’s Statement indicates that these policy provisions should continue to take precedence over existing rural planning policies and should be accorded substantial weight in the determination of any planning application received after 16 March 2006.
1.13 The Minister’s Statement also indicates that, prior to publishing the final rural planning policy document, there will be an opportunity for all those with an interest in this matter to make their views known through a further public consultation exercise.
1 Planning Service figures indicate that in excess of 14,000 new dwellings were permitted between 2004/06. These figures are based on the best available current information and are subject to ongoing validation