More than 98% of planning applications for rural homes determined under a new planning policy have been given the green light, it emerged today.
Draft Planning Policy Statement 21 (PPS21) was brought in last year to replace the controversial PPS14 which was aimed at preventing bungalow blight in the countryside.
So far, only 25 of 1,778 applications for single or replacement dwellings in the countryside between November 25 and the end of March have been refused, according to a response given to a written Assembly question put by SDLP Environment spokesman Patsy McGlone.
He said the reason behind the high number of approvals is that senior planning officers have sifted through the backlog of applications deferred from the days of PPS14 and dealt first with those that were most likely to be approved — such as farm dwellings and replacement dwellings.
Many more hundreds of planning applications that were refused under PPS14 and deferred until PPS21 was put in place have yet to be dealt with, he said.
“I want to see people being able to live in the area where they grew up and I suppose that there is some evidence of this starting to happen,” Mr McGlone said.
“Further to providing homes for people to live in, it might also hopefully stimulate jobs in the building industry.”
Environment Minister Edwin Poots said the figures show that PPS21 is delivering a vibrant and sustainable countryside.
He said the high level of replacement dwellings show that older buildings are being reused: “Had the direct rule-inspired PPS14 been allowed to continue then we would have still been living under an effective ‘blanket ban’ on development in the countryside.
“The figures for applications which have been received between 25th November 2008 and 31st March 2009, under the new devolved rural planning policy, shows that 1,121 planning applications for single dwellings in the rural area and 632 replacement dwellings have been approved across Northern Ireland,” said Mr Poots.
“These figures are a demonstration of the positive effect that the new policy is having in rural areas.
“Many applications submitted under the old PPS14 were earmarked for rejection but were held in anticipation of the new planning policy.
“Their reassessment under the new policy is allowing many of them to be approved.
“But it should also be noted that only approvals are automatically being issued.
“Applications recommended for refusal are being deferred (the refusal notice is not being issued) at the request of the district council, provided the applicant does not wish the decision to be issued, until the revised policy is in place.
“The figures for replacement dwellings will be particularly beneficial to the rural areas as it means that older buildings are being reused, and many of those are on farms and are helping to improve the environment within the countryside.
“The changes made to the replacement dwelling criteria and the scrapping of the farm viability test are examples of changes which have helped to deliver real and practical benefits to people living in rural areas of Northern Ireland.
“Our environment in Northern Ireland must be a living one and a sustainable one in which people can live and work in our countryside.”