Planning Portal

Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
Regional Planning Policies: Policy DES 2 Townscape

Policy DES 2 Townscape
This policy has been superseded by: PPS 3-Access, Movement and Parking (insofar as it applies to Access for the Disabled)
To require development proposals in towns and villages to make a positive contribution to townscape and be sensitive to the character of the area surrounding the site in terms of design, scale and use of materials.
Some towns and villages have been deliberately planned, others have slowly evolved, but their modern form has usually been achieved gradually, in a series of small changes. Financial restrictions, lack of machinery and reliance on local materials have often constrained the degree of change, but have provided our heritage of distinctive buildings. The builders of settlements may not always have been concerned with aesthetics. However, their responses to the natural environment often resulted in the design of settlements in which the relationship between landscape and built form was, and remains, aesthetically pleasing.
Development is necessary to adapt the fabric of settlements to present and future needs and to ensure the economic well-being of the community. It will affect townscape quality and character. The character and interest of townscape depends on street patterns, open space and the scale, architectural quality, detailing and materials of individual buildings
This policy emphasises the importance of urban design within the built environment. Each settlement needs to be viewed at the human scale. An attractive and interesting townscape is essential to the well-being of residents and visitors. New development should therefore minimise visual, functional and physical disruption and enhance or create interest, vitality and variety.
Many of the environmental concerns outlined below can be overcome by thoughtful design, which is concerned not just with how the development will look but also how it will be used in practice. The highest standards of architectural design and detailing are necessary to create new areas of townscape character and interest and these should be employed in all extensive new developments and particularly in all developments within existing Conservation Areas and Areas of Townscape Character. Bland unimaginative development does not enhance the townscape and will be discouraged.
Special attention will be paid to the entrances to towns and villages, to the visual and physical links, landmarks, and views and spaces within settlements as identified in development plan appraisals. Careful consideration will be given to the treatment of   form and space, the massing and arrangement of buildings and the spaces within and around them. Insensitive development which disrupts the scale and rhythm of townscape will be resisted. Development will not normally be approved where important views would be unduly interrupted or seriously prejudiced or where an opportunity to enhance such a view would be lost.


The physical appearance of new development will have an effect on the townscape of a settlement now and in the future. It should therefore be of sufficient quality to make a positive contribution to the townscape.
A new development will normally be required to be appropriate in use and sensitive in siting, scale, layout, design and materials both in itself and in relation to adjoining buildings, spaces and views. The main concern is to ensure that development proposals neither conflict with or detract from the character, amenity and design of an area.
This approach should not preclude appropriate new development and is not intended to limit imaginative and new ideas. However designers will need to be responsive to the real concerns of the community about issues like the quality of the environment, the scale of development, unsympathetic design, and, of particular relevance in towns and villages, the conservation of valued buildings, spaces and views, and the implications of proposals for crime and personal security, and access and traffic.
In interpreting the policy, each application for planning permission will be assessed against the three main elements of land use, amenity and design.

Land Use

An initial assessment is required, as to whether the type of development is suitable for the site. The assessment will establish the main use in the surrounding area, the appropriateness of a diversity of uses and the desirability of introducing a proposed development which may alter the balance of uses. If the proposed development is likely to alter the character of the area adversely, it will normally be refused.


New development should provide reasonable standards of amenity both in terms of the environment which the development creates and in terms of the effect it has on neighbouring properties. Where there is an inherent incompatibility with neighbouring developments, or where remedial action cannot be made effective, applications will normally be refused.


The appearance of new buildings can play a major part in the overall character and quality of an area and they can also do much to shape the image of a settlement. Good design is therefore extremely important. There is no simple definition of what constitutes good design. However the best buildings are only ever produced by an architect of real design ability working for an enlightened client.
The Planning Service does not wish to be prescriptive about architectural style, which is a matter for the architect and client. However it does wish to see designs that enhance townscape and improve the image of settlements. This can mean modern and forward-looking designs.
Building design will need to be architecturally sympathetic to the important townscape elements of sensitive locations, such as Conservation Areas or the settings of listed buildings. Elsewhere in locations where the environment is visually dull or if there is no context of neighbouring buildings more assertive design may be appropriate.
The Department is concerned to ensure that developments do not deteriorate in appearance because of inadequate detailing and materials . This will require materials to be suited to the proposed building, appropriate to their surroundings, durable and they must weather well.
The sensitive floodlighting of buildings can bring added visual interest to areas after dark. It is particularly appropriate to floodlight landmarks, public buildings such as churches, theatres, cinemas and restaurants, and fine examples of architecture.

Access for the Disabled

All new buildings open to the public such as shops, offices, restaurants etc, are required by law to make adequate provision for access by disabled people. Relevant policy and practice is in Policy PSU 7, Development Control Advice Note 11 and Development Control Advice Note 11 (Revised) gives general guidance for developers, designers and agents on the planning criteria to be applied.


Proposals for large residential developments are unsuitable in rural settlements and should be broken down into small discrete and separate areas. Layout designs will have to take account of "traffic calming" techniques where the requirements of the car will be subordinate to those of the residents. Further guidance is given in the Department's Design Guide for the Layout of Housing Roads.
Houses with large back gardens are a common feature in many towns and villages. Sometimes it may be acceptable to develop back gardens for new housing provided it is in keeping with the character and quality of the local environment. Where development of back gardens or back land is considered acceptable, it will be subject to strict planning criteria defined in the development plan. There must be a proper means of access, convenient and safe for drivers and pedestrians, and adequate provision for car parking.
'Tandem" development, consisting of one house immediately behind another and sharing the same access, is generally unsatisfactory because of the difficulties of access to the house at the back and the disturbance and lack of privacy suffered by the house at the front.

Alterations and Extensions

All alterations and extensions to buildings should normally respect the scale, form, detailing and materials of the original building. The degree of sensitivity required will vary according to the quality of the building and the visual importance of the area, such as the setting of a listed building or within a Conservation Area or an Area of Townscape Character.

Shop Fronts

Shop fronts are particularly vulnerable to commercial pressures for their replacement and the piecemeal downgrading of the character of shopping streets. Retailing changes have tended to accelerate a trend towards mediocre shop front design. A good shop front enhances its surroundings, a bad one debases them.
Every shop front should make a positive contribution to the street. Developers wishing to replace shop fronts should consult their local planning office at an early stage for advice on the particular local requirements.
In general traditional shop fronts should be preserved. In Conservation Areas, the removal of existing shop fronts will normally require consent and in all cases of listed buildings, they will require listed building consent. Replacement shop fronts should be designed and detailed in an appropriate manner, so that the ground floor relates satisfactorily to the elevational design of the upper parts of the building. Appropriate displays inside first floor windows above shops are often acceptable and can help to create lively and attractive shopping streets in town centres.
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