NI scraps planning restrictions imposed in August

The Department for Infrastructure issued a Planning Advice Note (PAN) on August 2nd, titled Implementation of Strategic Planning Policy on Development in the Countryside, only to scrap it two months later as critics argued it could make it harder for self-builders to get planning permission.

The PAN was issued to local councils to advise them on how to determine rural planning applications, clarifying clauses in PPS21 including “all forms of development” having to “integrate into their setting and ensure that there is no adverse impact on the rural character of the area”.

“There is an expectation that there is an established group of buildings on the farm holding, with which a new dwelling could visually link or be sited to cluster with,” reads the PAN. It goes on to say that “new dwellings on farms should be sited to visually link or cluster with an established group of buildings on the farm holding, which would not include a dwelling and domestic garage only.” 

Planning consultant Mervyn McNeill described the guidance as “unfair and discriminatory” and has been lobbying MLAs and the Ulster Farmers’ Union, amongst others, to get the Department to withdraw it.

On October 15, the Department scrapped the PAN.

The DfI said in a statement: “The intention of the advice note was to assist with ensuring a consistent interpretation of the policy by re-emphasising and clarifying certain fundamental aspects of it in order to have a positive impact on the planning system overall and our rural communities. The PAN did not add to or change existing planning policy.”

“Regrettably, rather than bringing certainty and clarity, as was its intention, the PAN seems to have created confusion and uncertainty.”

The Strategic Planning Policy Statement, on which planning decisions are based, “does and should continue to provide opportunities for sustainable development in the countryside in general, including for farming families and other rural dwellers, striking a balance between supporting and sustaining rural communities and protecting the countryside from inappropriate development,” read the statement.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill welcomed the move and said in a tweet: “This will allow for more homes to be built in rural areas, helping many younger families to get their first home.”

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Written by Astrid Madsen

Astrid Madsen is the editor of the SelfBuild magazine. Email

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