Environment Minister Edwin Poots has announced new planning rules to combat town cramming.
The minister said Northern Ireland has “lost a lot of history” over the last few years as a result of developers demolishing period properties to replace them with densely packed apartment blocks.
The move comes weeks after the Belfast Telegraph launched its Save Our Heritage campaign to protect the historic buildings in our towns and villages.
The Executive has agreed to publish a new Addendum to Planning Policy 7 (PPS7), which governs sustainable development in urban areas.
Mr Poots promised the revised policy wouldn’t be a blanket ban on redevelopment, flat conversion or development of gardens, but said it would tackle what has become a huge problem with developers offering people huge money to turn their properties into densely packed apartments.
“This hopefully will deal with the issue where areas such as Bangor and south Belfast, very often leafy suburbs, where period dwellings are being pulled down and being replaced with 14 apartments,” Mr Poots said.
The minister said anywhere that had a large garden was vulnerable to developers going in with huge amounts of money, buying up houses and gardens that would then be demolished and replaced with apartments.
A public consultation in which to change the policy sparked a lot of interest, attracting 89 responses, most in support of the move, he said.
“It will still be permitted where you had houses which are on a main road or arterial route. But where you have cul de sacs and people living in quiet suburbs, the ability for developers to pull down houses with large gardens and replace them with a huge multiplicity of dwellings will be considerably tightened,” he said.
“People have been finding that their neighbourhoods are changing and changing substantially. This is a very significant change and should result in a considerable fall-off in these type of applications.
“It will impact upon thousands of dwellings. Thousands of applications have been passed to allow these type of developments in the past.
“There are places like Bangor sea front where you have fine period dwellings which haven’t been listed and the buildings have changed
— it’s essentially changed the character of the area in a very significant way. A lot of history has been lost over the past number of years as a result of not having a strong enough policy in place.
“These additional planning policies are designed to ensure greater control over the density and pattern of development in established residential areas, and to ensure greater control over conversions to flats and apartments.
“This is not however a blanket ban on redevelopment, flat conversion, infilling or development of gardens. It is about getting the right developments in the right places. It is aimed at providing good quality homes in keeping with the overall character of the existing area.”
The Green Party’s Steven Agnew gave the new planning policy a cautious welcome, saying: “Many residential areas experienced apartment blight during the construction boom. It is important that we learn from that experience and put measures in place to protect the character of existing towns and villages.”