New planning rules that will relax curbs on ‘bungalow blight’ have been branded a “developers’ charter”.
Environmental campaigners said the final version of PPS21, a policy limiting the building of single dwellings in the countryside, would create so many loopholes it would spark a free-for-all.
Under the new rules, clusters of homes can be built in the countryside if there are already a minimum of three homes at a focal point such as a church, community hall or crossroads.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots also told the Assembly yesterday that the revised PPS21 would require any new dwellings on farms to be clustered with other farm buildings — but this requirement can be waived if homes need to be built on a separate site for health and safety reasons or to allow for farm expansion.
The final version of PPS21 replaces draft PPS21 which has been in place since November 2008 and itself replaced the controversial PPS14, which placed a blanket ban on building single dwellings in the countryside.
More than 2,000 planning applications recommended for refusal under earlier versions of the rule will now be re-assessed.
The bulk of these 2,500 applications were lodged with the Omagh and Craigavon planning offices and reviewing them could result in a flurry of new development as applications are greenlighted. Planners estimate it will take around six months to work through the backlog.
Mr Poots said applications for single houses cannot be approved on the basis of kinship. But he promised PPS21 will be reviewed within two years by an Executive sub-committee on rural planning.
The Green Party said the new policy would create so many loopholes it would be a charter for developers and speculators.
Assembly Member Brian Wilson said: “PPS 21 has nothing to do with developing rural communities and totally ignores the environmental impact of single dwellings in the countryside — it ignores the threat of bungalow blight and creates a culture of a hacienda on every hillside.
“The lessons of Donegal have been ignored and our beautiful countryside, which is a major tourism attraction, will be destroyed. The potential for the development of our tourism sector will be greatly reduced.”
The Alliance Party said the rule will make it easier for people to build in rural areas which should be protected.
Sustainability spokesman Alan Lawther said: “While we need to listen to the concerns of people in rural areas, we need to do what’s best to protect the environment.”
The Ulster Farmers Union welcomed the rule. “The UFU is against a planning free-for-all in rural areas, but we have always advocated a flexible and balanced planning policy which will ensure that the economic, social and environmental well being of the countryside is enhanced,” UFU president John Thompson said.