Ministerial Statement: Quality Initiative
Implications for the Belfast Urban Area Plan and other plans currently under preparation
These policies on quality development and infrastructure provision will be incorporated into proposals for alteration of the Belfast Urban Area Plan 2001, which my Department will publish in the very near future. There are, however, further implications in what I have just announced for the Belfast Urban Area Plan and for other plans currently in preparation.
It will obviously take some time to complete the process thoroughly in relation to the Belfast City Region and we cannot halt development in the meantime. On the other hand, we must not pre-empt the outcome of the city region review by authorising large scale land releases.
The Belfast Urban Area Plan, which was published in 1989, released land for housing development on the edge of the city sufficient to cater for anticipated demand over the first half of the fifteen year plan period. The development of other land on the city side of the green belt boundary – described as “whiteland”- was left as a matter for further consideration following a mid-term assessment of housing demand.
Over the last ten years, the majority of new housing development in the Belfast Urban Area has taken place in suburban greenfield locations, and so the balance sought in the area plan between housing development in the suburbs and in the inner city has not been achieved. On this basis, I acknowledge that there is a case for postponing any release of “whiteland” for further suburban housing.
However, I am conscious that we must ensure that there is provision of new homes to meet the objectives of our housing policy, and that the existing supply of suburban greenfield sites is rapidly diminishing. I am also keenly aware that the local construction industry is dependent, in no small measure, on a reasonably buoyant housing market.
I have considered carefully the arguments for and against proceeding with the release of additional greenfield sites. I have concluded that the community interest would best be served by a two-sided approach. First, we should encourage new housing in the inner and middle city where there is an established and under-used infrastructure catering for physical, social educational and recreational needs. Second, we should offer a limited release of whiteland on the edge of the urban area pending conclusions from the wider review of the city region.
Details of the proposed release will be announced within the next few weeks, but the release will be strictly managed in accordance with the quality approach to new housing development which I have just outlined. My Department will take the lead in having illustrative plans prepared for a number of sites which are considered suitable for village-scale development.
There are a number of other plans currently in preparation. I have instructed the Planning Service to adopt a two stage approach in zoning “greenfield” land for housebuilding in the Lisburn, Carrickfergus and Castlereagh Area Plans should they be published ahead of this wider review of the city region. The plans, if brought forward ahead, will propose a first phase allocation of land necessary to cater for housing development up to the year 2001, leaving the remainder for consideration at a later stage after the city region exercise is complete.