Planning Portal

Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
Regional Planning Policies: Policy DES 4 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Policy DES 4 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
This policy has been superseded by: PPS 2- Natural Heritage (insofar as it refers to the protection of our natural heritage)
To require development proposals in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be sensitive to the distinctive character  of the area and the quality of their landscape, heritage and wildlife.
Northern Ireland is fortunate in having a rich variety of high quality landscapes, within a relatively small land area. Approximately 26% of the Province is within existing and proposed Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
AONBs are areas not only of high scenic quality but often of wildlife importance and rich in both cultural and architectural heritage. The Department designates them as AONBs in recognition of the national importance of these qualities.
The objectives of designation are to:
  • conserve or enhance the natural beauty or amenities of the area;
  • conserve wildlife, historic objects or natural phenomena within it;
  • promote its enjoyment by the public; and
  • provide or maintain public access to it.
These objectives are based on wider environmental considerations than the control of development and AONB boundaries will not necessarily be synonymous with the application of one particular planning policy.
The Countryside Assessments, to be produced as part of the development plan process (Policy DES 1), will consider each designated AONB, to identify distinctive local landscape character types and their potential for protection, enhancement or limited development.
The various planning policy areas for each AONB will be set out in the relevant development plan and not in the Department's AONB designation document.
While the designation policy is one of protection and enhancement of these special landscapes, in applying the planning policy, account will be taken of the needs of local communities and the need to sustain the economic and social wellbeing of those living in the AONBs.
In assessing development proposals within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including those parts subject to policy constraint, the Department's aim will not only be to protect their unique qualities but also to promote the enjoyment and make a positive contribution to their conservation. New buildings should respect, and may have to reflect, the traditional architectural styles and settlement pattern. Applicants and their professional advisers should take particular care over the retention or reconstruction of traditional boundary details, such as hedges, walls, trees and gates, around new developments in AONBs.
Planning applications for housing, industrial, and tourist-related development, in AONB towns and villages, will be judged on the basis of the effect of the proposals on the setting of the settlement within the AONB, as well as scale, design and other planning and environmental considerations.
The Department will publish guidance and provide detailed advice on the design principles to be applied in each AONB. Design guides have already been published for the Mournes, and Antrim Coast and Glens. Particular attention will be given to local styles and layout.
Designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty does not necessarily rule out certain forms of development. However the first principle of practice is that the Department will not be prepared to permit schemes that would be detrimental to environmental quality. It is up to architects and designers to put forward proposals which reflect an appreciation of, and sympathy for, the special character of each AONB.
Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) are designated by the Department of Agriculture and particular management programmes and grant aid schemes apply to farms within them. ESAs are areas of special landscape, wildlife or historic interest which can be protected or enhanced by supporting specific agricultural practices. While they are not planning designations, applications for new development with them will be approved if the proposals respect and are sensitive to the particular character of the area.
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