Strategic Planning Action Network
School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering

Strategic Planning Action Network


Planning policy for housing in the Northern Ireland countryside has been the subject of a longstanding debate which pitches the social, economic and cultural traditions of rural living against environmental concerns, not least the impact of new development on the appearance of the countryside. In 2004 the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland published an Issues Paper titled “Sustainable Development in the Countryside”. This is designed to lead towards the completion of a new Planning Policy Statement which will guide the preparation of statutory development plans and inform development control decision-making. This initiative comes on the back of a litany of policy statements on this topic dating back to the 1960s, and currently set out in the document “A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland” published by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland in 1993. The forthcoming Planning Policy Statement is designed to replace that advice and give explication to the more recent “Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025”. The latter contains a specific chapter on rural Northern Ireland and contains a raft of strategic policies constructed around the maintenance of vibrant and self-generating rural communities. The research being carried out as part of SPAN in Northern Ireland is designed to contribute to a much needed evidence-based approach to policy formulation in this sphere.

The project will seek to explore the relationship between countryside housing and the achievement of local development in rural areas. Moreover, given that local development in this context is about looking creatively at ways to improve the existing physical and human resource base, community-led initiatives are central to meeting that challenge. The principal task in this project will be to design with rural communities a series of local planning frameworks that are premised around community preference and environmental responsibility. It is envisaged that the output will be of value to the host communities and to the multiple stakeholders in the wider rural planning policy arena.

The pilot action territory comprises the dispersed settlement pattern of the western shore communities of Lough Neagh stretching northwards from Washing Bay to Ballyronan. This spatial scale is appropriate for the detailed participation-oriented analysis and policy development that will be required in the project. Furthermore, this research territory complements a much larger area embracing surrounding local villages and the regional towns of Dungannon and Cookstown which will be the subject of a second study by Rural Community Network. This will examine the contribution of multi-level governance to rural development. The context for the empirical work thus fits well with some core concerns of the European Spatial Development Perspective dealing with urban-rural interdependence and indigenous development. Comparative research within the territories of SPAN partners will bring added value to the work being undertaken in Northern Ireland.

For further details contact: Dr Michael Murray