Planning policy and guidance: Northern Ireland
The following policy and guidance are most relevant to planning and biodiversity in Northern Ireland:
- Regional Development Strategy 2035
- Programme for Government (2011-2015)
- Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (2015)
- Planning Policy Statement 2 ‘Natural Heritage’
- Area and Local Plans
Regional Development Strategy 2035 (2010)
The Regional Development Strategy is the strategy for the long term development for the whole of Northern Ireland and also provides the spatial planning framework. It sits above the other Northern Ireland planning documents described below. As well as social and economic matters, the strategy gives significant weight to the environment. It is material to decisions on individual planning applications and appeals. One of its aims is to protect and enhance the environment for its own sake and it includes guidance (RG11) to “conserve, protect and, where possible, enhance our built heritage and our natural environment” which includes protecting designated areas of countryside from inappropriate development.
Programme for Government (2011-2015)
The Programme for Government (2011-2015) sets out the Northern Ireland Executive’s key commitments for the period. These are divided into five priority areas; priority 3 is “Protecting Our People, the Environment and Creating Safer Communities” which it says includes preserving and improving the built and natural environment. One of the key commitments is to “Work towards halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020” which it principally plans to achieve during the programme period through the designation of 45 additional Areas of Special Scientific Interest and the publication of both an invasive species strategy and a revised biodiversity strategy.
(Draft) Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (2015)
The provisions of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) must be taken into account by decision-making councils in the preparation of Local Development Plans, and are also material to all decisions on individual planning applications and appeals. The SPPS provides detailed policy and provisions on the natural environment. These include a policy objective to “seek to further the conservation, enhancement and restoration of the abundance, quality, diversity and distinctiveness of the region’s natural heritage”. It makes clear that the potential effects, including cumulative effects, of development proposals on natural heritage features should be taken into account. These features include designated sites of international, national and local importance; priority and protected species; priority habitats, active peatland, ancient and long-established woodland and wetlands; and biodiversity and geological interests within the wider environment. The general policy is that development proposals which could adversely affect these features may only be permitted in exceptional circumstances such as when the benefits of the proposed development clearly outweigh the value of the site. In such cases, appropriate mitigation and/or compensatory measures shall be required.
Planning Policy Statement 2: Natural Heritage (2013)
Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 2 sets out the Department of the Environment’s planning policies for the conservation, protection and enhancement of Northern Ireland’s natural heritage. PPS 2 replaces ‘Planning and Nature Conservation (1997)’ and supersedes Policies SP16 and DES4 in ‘A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland (1993).
The objectives of PPS2 reflect those set out in other planning documents. Objectives of PPS2 include: to ‘seek to further the conservation, enhancement and restoration of the abundance, quality, diversity and distinctiveness of the region’s natural heritage’; and ‘to contribute to rural renewal and urban regeneration by ensuring developments take account of the role and value of biodiversity in supporting economic diversification and contributing to a high quality environment’.
Within PPS 2, local planning authorities are briefed to ‘ensure that appropriate weight is attached to designated sites of international, national and local importance; priority and protected species; and biodiversity and geological interests within the wider environment.’
Within the context of development plans, those responsible for their preparation should extend full consideration to proposed land use zonings and locations. Planning proposals should seek to promote opportunities for green and blue infrastructure, particularly where it can enhance and connect open space and ecological networks.
There are six planning policies included within PPS 2, each with its own criteria for planning permission;
- Policy NH1 – European and Ramsar Sites – International
- Policy NH2 – Species Protected by Law
- Policy NH3 – Sites of Nature Conservation Importance – National
- Policy NH4 – Sites of Nature Conservation Importance – Local
- Policy NH5 – Habitats, Species or Features of Natural Heritage Importance
- Policy NH6 – Areas of Outstanding Beauty
The planning policies are designed to be read in conjunction with the relevant content of development plans.
Area plans apply the regional policies of the Department of the Environment at the appropriate local scale. They are designed to inform local planning authorities and developers and guide their development decisions. Primarily, they provide a means of resolving conflict between local development requirements and the need to protect the environmental features of the area.
Each council in Northern Ireland is responsible for preparing its own local plan to meeting development expectations whilst ensuring landscape and environmental features remain protected. The plans set out the long term vision for the social, environmental and economic well-being of their area and its citizens and are used as a guide for decision making for all planning applications.