Planning Portal

Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
Regional Planning Policies: Policy DES 5 Buildings in the Countryside

Policy DES 5 Buildings in the Countryside
The provisions of PPS 21 will take precedence over this policy.
Planning permission will be granted for the erection of a building in the countryside which is:
  • in a locality which has the capacity to absorb another building, without adverse impact on visual amenity;
  • on a site which can be visually integrated into the landscape; and
  • of an appropriate design for the locality;
and provided it meets other planning criteria and policy requirements.
Much of the character and quality of the countryside in Northern Ireland stems from the presence of a wide range of traditional buildings of local styles and largely local materials. Traditional buildings evolved in response to their setting and their function in the countryside. New buildings should respect that long established link and not attempt, through their siting and design to impose alien or urban standards.
A new building, particularly a dwelling, is a permanent and obvious feature in the landscape and its development requires forethought. In practice too many bungalows and houses have been imposed on the landscape in suburban forms and in a wide variety of styles. Many of these bungalows and houses have been built in the last fifteen years.
Society cannot compromise on the quality of development in the countryside. Developers must acknowledge the range of circumstances which exist and the differing capacity of various landscapes to absorb development when considering the design of new buildings. The capacity of different areas depends largely upon the land form, vegetation and the existing pattern of settlement.


In practice, the location of a new development frequently determines its prominence and the degree of visual impact it will have on the landscape. In assessing the potential impact of a development, particular regard will be had to the quality and nature of the landscape in the locality and at the site. This will require analysis of the capacity of the landscape to absorb the development and the extent to which the development of the site will be visible or prominent from other parts of the countryside, especially from the public road system and from areas of general public access and assembly.
A new building in the countryside will be acceptable if, when viewed from these surrounding vantage points, it meets all of the following criteria:
  • it blends sympathetically with landform;
  • it uses existing trees, buildings, slopes or other natural features to provide a backdrop;
  • it uses an identifiable site with long established boundaries, which separate the site naturally from the surrounding ground; and
  • it does not spoil any scenic aspect or detract from the visual appearance of the countryside.
Alternatively a new building will not be acceptable if, when viewed from surrounding vantage points
  • it occupies a prominent, skyline or, top of slope/ ridge location; or
  • the site lacks existing long established boundaries or is unable to provide a suitable degree of enclosure for the building in the countryside.
In flat landscapes or exposed hill areas, where some degree of prominence may be unavoidable, careful siting using existing natural or man-made features can still ensure a new building does not appear to be out of place or unduly conspicuous.


If a site is unduly prominent, the task of placing a building on it which does not look out of place is made extremely difficult. It is the siting of the building that has the most impact. Even good design cannot always redeem the damage done by inappropriate siting.
Development will be required to respect the traditional pattern of settlement in the countryside, that is the disposition and visual appearance of land and buildings in the general locality of the proposed development.
Each development proposal will be assessed and considered acceptable if
  • it is positioned sensitively along with a group of buildings such as a farm complex;
  • it adopts the spacing of a dispersed pattern of settlement and has integrated sensitively with the existing land forms so as to blend unobtrusively with its surroundings, and;
  • it avoids contributing to a build up of development in any particular locality, so as to cause a change in the rural character of that area.
Houses close to a public road may be a traditional form of settlement pattern in some localities. However these buildings were invariably small in size, of modest design, constructed of simple traditional materials, positioned at right-angles or parallel to the public road and had little or no formal garden. Building in this tradition will require these features to be incorporated into the design proposals.
The large rectangular plot cut out of the frontage of a roadside field is unlikely to be acceptable, even if it does have hedges defining some of its boundaries. Similarly suburban house types are unlikely to be acceptable on frontage sites. A site set back some distance from the road, along a farm lane or behind the immediate roadside field, might be more acceptable. However, set-back is of little use if the area between the house and the road is developed as a large and very prominent garden area. Therefore, in some circumstances, it may be necessary to control the size and location of the curtilage by condition.
New developments often create a much greater impact on the landscape than the use of existing buildings and sites, as well as ignoring the potential for using mature sites and preserving and developing Ulster's rich heritage of traditional buildings. There are many instances of rundown, dilapidated and unoccupied traditional buildings in the countryside. Some are structurally sound and largely intact and could be renovated to provide accommodation with modern standards of amenity and fittings. Most of these buildings occupy mature sites which meet the environmental standards required for the erection of a new house.


Landscaping, garden areas and the design and type of site boundaries are all important visual elements in the countryside and can add significantly to the setting and integration of a building.
New buildings should be sited to take advantage of natural or previously planted features which could provide protection and integration. It will be necessary for all applications to include details of proposals for site works and, where appropriate, proposals for landscaping to integrate the proposed development into the surrounding landscape - see Policy DES 10. Where trees exist they should be retained and opportunities for new planting with native or other species characteristic of the area should be sought. New tree planting for integration will be considered in addition to existing vegetation, however, new planting alone will rarely be sufficient. An unacceptable site can not be successfully integrated into the open countryside by the use of landscaping.
The potential loss of landscape features such as trees, hedgerows or walls or archaeological sites and monuments may be a reason for the refusal of a planning application. Where valued landscapes are threatened by activities that are otherwise permitted by the General Development Order, consideration will be given to the use of Article 4 directions to remove permitted development rights.


Access should be taken from existing lanes, where available. Where an access road and services, such as electricity and telephone lines, are required, they should be run unobtrusively alongside existing hedgerows or wall lines. Access roads and driveways should respect site contours and cross them gently, thus integrating the dwelling with its entrance and site. Sweeping driveways which create a suburban emphasis should be avoided.
While adequate visibility at the road access must be provided, access roads surfaced in tar macadam and with concrete kerbing can look out of place in the countryside and less formal solutions should be sought. The traditional field pattern should be preserved arid roadside and field boundary hedges and stone walls retained or reinstated following any access works. It may be necessary to control retention or reinstatement of boundaries, hedges and walls by condition, especially in AONBs.


The form and proportions of a new building are key elements in the design and determine the building's visual impact on the landscape. If form and proportion are wrong, then little can be done with any other features to mitigate the impact of a poor design.
The most successful rural designs are those which use the simple shapes and forms of traditional buildings. For example the traditional house has an elongated rectangular plan with wall and door openings on the front and rear walls. The house plan has limited depth and if extended it is usually linearly or with the addition of another storey. Where a return is provided it is normally to the rear with only a porch on the front elevation. The roof is either gable or hipped depending upon the locality and chimneys are expressed along the ridge line.
Some buildings were altered over time and they may show the influence of more formal architecture. Indeed there are many rural houses of a formal design which could act as appropriate models for modem houses in the countryside.
The acceptability of the silhouette, in relation to the natural contours and its relationship with any existing buildings, will frequently be the yardstick against which the suitability of the siting is judged. Conditions will not normally be imposed regulating the number of storeys contained in a new building, although the height of a new building may be restricted and the pitch of the roof lowered, if justified by considerations of scale or form which would make the building dominant or incongruous in the local landscape.
Unequal pitched roofs reflect the traits of suburban rather than rural architecture and will not be acceptable. Similarly, buildings where the roof is designed to span the length, rather than the width of the structure, will normally be unacceptable.
A good relationship of solid wall to openings, such as windows and doors, is extremely important in a rural setting. Windows are traditionally small and vertical in proportion. New houses, particularly bungalows, favour larger areas of glass usually with a horizontal emphasis out of keeping with traditional design. Unusually large horizontal windows on elevations facing roads or footpaths are not acceptable and should be avoided. Picture windows and patio doors are more effectively located on the secluded elevations where shelter and personal privacy can be guaranteed, provided the overall design and orientation are acceptable.
Relative simplicity of design and discretion in the use of materials, texture and colour will greatly enhance the appearance of a building. The use of non-traditional materials such as brick, concrete and random stone-cladding tends to introduce too much diversity of colour and texture. Combinations of materials on walls, the use of feature panels and excessive ornament should be avoided.
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