Planning Portal

Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
Regional Planning Policies: Policy AG 3 Agricultural Diversification

Policy AG 3 Agricultural Diversification
The provisions of PPS 21 will take precedence over this policy.
To facilitate the process of diversification of the rural economy by giving favourable consideration to suitable new farm based enterprises.
The agricultural industry continues to undergo substantial changes. Changes in farm income levels and price support, as well as the development of new techniques and continued rationalisation, have led many farmers to look for alternative sources of income to supplement that derived from farming. Some farmers have responded by diversification into non-agricultural activities located on the farm holding. Government is supporting this process of diversification by the development of a comprehensive package of assistance.
Economic diversity and agricultural diversification will be encouraged - see also Policy IC 5. On the other hand, it is important that the countryside of Northern Ireland is not spoilt by the unfettered development of urban uses. Diversification proposals should be of a scale and nature appropriate for the location and be capable of satisfactory integration into the rural landscape.
Planning permission will normally be granted for acceptable farm diversification enterprises in situations where the project is clearly tied to an existing farm holding or occupant. A new enterprise will need to be modest in scale and have no significant adverse impact on the locality.
Within Countryside Policy Areas such proposals will normally only be acceptable where they involve the re-use of existing redundant rural buildings or are entirely contained within existing enclosed areas. Elsewhere new buildings may be acceptable if they are small in scale, are satisfactorily integrated into an existing group of buildings and where the new use remains clearly subsidiary to the existing use of the building group. In very exceptional circumstances it may be acceptable to allow a new building separate from the existing group of buildings. For example, in situations where the proposed use would result in nuisance problems for an existing dwelling, or where there are access or servicing difficulties, or where a location separate from the existing building group would permit the proposal to be more satisfactorily integrated into the landscape.
Successful businesses, however, often grow and expand. The countryside is rarely a satisfactory location for larger businesses today. Where agricultural diversification schemes become more than small-scale, relocation will normally be encouraged on appropriate sites with nearby settlements. The Department will not normally grant permission for existing urban based enterprises seeking relocation in the countryside.
Acceptable diversification enterprises could include:
  • processing of agricultural produce ancillary to the main farm;
  • manufacture of craft items;
  • farm shops;
  • 'pick your own';
  • catering;
  • tourist accommodation;
  • sport, recreation and educational facilities; or
  • livery for horses and ponies;
subject to the nature, scale and location of the project being appropriate in the countryside generally and the local area in particular. Proposals must also meet the normal planning environmental criteria.
Applications for the development of specific types of diversification will be considered in accordance with the criteria set out below.

Farm Sales

There has been a long tradition of small-scale and often seasonal sale of farm produce at the "farm gate". In many cases the level of activity is such that planning permission would not be required.
Where planning permission is required, favourable consideration will normally be given to proposals for the creation of farm shops provided that:
  • the produce sold is mainly grown or reared on that holding;
  • adequate access and parking arrangements are provided;
  • the proposal is of a scale appropriate in a rural location; and
  • the development can be satisfactorily integrated into the local landscape.
Where permission is granted for the development of a farm shop conditions may be applied to:
  • limit goods to those mainly produced on the holding;
  • limit the overall scale of development;
  • require that the shop is not run independently of the farm; and
  • ensure adequate car parking and landscaping.

Garden Centres

For many years horticultural produce has been sold directly from individual nurseries and agricultural holdings. Some outlets have now developed into garden centres located m rural areas, often in the countryside adjacent to the larger centres of population. There has however been considerable pressure to develop large retail stores selling a range of gardening, horticultural, leisure and even Do-It-Yourself (DIY) goods in the countryside. Such stores are often unrelated to any existing agricultural or horticultural activity.
Proposals for the development of facilities for the retailing of horticultural produce from existing agricultural or horticultural holdings may be approved provided the majority of the produce sold is grown at the site. Conditions may be imposed to restrict the sale of plants or goods not grown at the site to an incidental level only. Proposals to establish independent retail garden centres unrelated to the sale of produce grown at the site will be strongly resisted. In addition, the establishment of independent retail units within existing garden centres will not be permitted.
All proposals will need to be acceptable in terms of scale of operation, visual impact, and other normal planning and environmental considerations.

The Keeping and Breeding of Domestic Animals

The use of agricultural land or buildings for the care, boarding or breeding of domestic animals constitutes a material change in the use of the land or buildings and requires the grant of planning permission. Such uses are often suited to rural locations and sympathetic consideration will normally be given to proposals for this type of use, provided other aspects of the development are acceptable.
Permission will not normally be granted for proposals which would be visually intrusive in the landscape, result in a loss of amenity for nearby residents - for example from noise, or lead to an unacceptable level of traffic generation.

Fish Farms

The excavation of ponds, the placing of cages or other structures in inland waters, or the erection of buildings or structures for the purposes of fish farming constitutes development which requires the grant of planning permission. There is potential for the further development of fish farms, however it is recognised that this type of enterprise can have visual and environmental impacts. While accepting the development of fish farming as a form of farm diversification, the visualcharacter and the environment of rural areas will be protected.
Proposals which would be visually intrusive, would lead to a detrimental impact on the appearance of the countryside or would have an adverse affect on the environment or on sites or areas of nature conservation interest or man-made heritage, will not be acceptable. Visual considerations will be of even greater importance in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or other special landscape areas.
Conditions may be imposed on any grant of permission to control the scale of development and protect the amenity of the area.

The Keeping and Breeding of Horses

The grazing of horses on land does not constitute a material change of use, however where land is used for the keeping of horses for commercial purposes, including recreational and leisure uses, planning permission will be required.
Favourable consideration will be given to proposals for the keeping and breeding of horses provided that the development would not result in an unacceptable loss of rural amenity. The following factors will be considered:
  • scale of built development. Some equestrian uses require the provision of large buildings. Such proposals will not normally be acceptable where it is judged that the scale of development would be visually dominant or intrusive or would lead to a loss of character of the particular rural area;
  • adequate provision for access and car parking. Some equestrian uses can lead to large visitor levels especially associated with sports competitions. The proposal should not create traffic hazards;
  • impact on adjacent residential properties. Proposals which adversely affect residential properties by reason of noise, smell or disturbance are unlikely to be acceptable.
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