Introduction

7.3.1The Tourism Strategy in Part 1 sets out the policy aims and framework for the following operational subject policies relating to tourism.

Policy TOU1 Safeguarding of Tourism Assets

Planning permission will not be granted for development that would in itself or in combination with existing and approved development in the locality have an adverse impact on a tourism asset such as to significantly compromise its amenity, setting and tourism value.

This policy provides for the safeguarding of all tourism assets, including those which are subject to protection for other reasons under various legislative or policy instruments and those which are not subject to such protection.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.2Within the context of this policy, a tourism asset is defined as any feature associated with the built or natural environment which is of intrinsic interest to tourists.

7.3.3The safeguarding of tourism assets from unnecessary, inappropriate or excessive development is a vital element in securing a viable and sustainable tourism industry. To allow such development could damage the intrinsic character and quality of the asset and diminish its effectiveness in attracting tourists.

7.3.4There are many diverse features or combinations of features associated with the natural and historic environment in Mid and East Antrim which are of intrinsic interest to tourists. Some examples include the Coast Road defining the Causeway Coastal Route, the Gobbins, the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB, Slemish, our Conservation Areas and historical and archaeological sites such as Carrickfergus Castle.

7.3.5The policy is applicable to all forms of development which may impact adversely upon a tourism asset. Adverse impact will include visual impact, for example within an area of high landscape quality or in a Conservation Area, either of which could be important for attracting tourists. Adverse impact upon a tourism asset could also arise through other sources, for example odour, noise, dust or pollution of air or watercourses. What constitutes ‘adverse impact’ and the determination of the extent of its influence are matters of planning judgement and each case will be assessed on its merits.

7.3.6However, this policy is not intended to prevent all development. Development that will not significantly compromise the overall tourism value of the asset may be facilitated. Where the tourism asset is large scale, for example the AONB, key locations of tourism value at a local level should be the focus of the policy. Development of a tourist amenity intended to provide sustainable access to or interpretation of a tourism asset, as provided for through Policy TOU4 Tourist Amenities in the Countryside, will be required to be sensitive to the inherent qualities and setting that underpin the tourism value of the asset.

7.3.7Some tourism assets will be afforded protection from inappropriate or excessive development through statutory designation or other policies in the LDP. This policy is intended to complement such measures in the specific interests of tourism while affording protection to other undesignated environmental assets on the basis of their tourism value alone.

Policy TOU2 Tourism Development in Settlements and Tourism Opportunity Zones

A proposal for tourism development (including a tourist amenity or tourist accommodation) will be permitted within a settlement; where it is of high quality design, meets the General Policy, accords with other provisions of the LDP and provided it is of a nature appropriate to the settlement.

This policy will also apply within the designated Tourism Opportunity Zones at Carnfunnock Country Park and at the former Magheramorne Quarry, subject to meeting any key site requirements that may be introduced at Local Policies Plan stage.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.8In accordance with the LDP’s Spatial Growth Strategy the majority of tourism development should be directed to settlements as tourism benefits from the synergy arising through the concentration of existing services and facilities such as, accommodation, retail, catering, entertainment, leisure, culture and transport. In addition to promoting a sense of vitality in settlements and helping to deliver development that is sustainable, this approach will help avoid adverse impact on our tourism assets located in the countryside whilst ensuring ready connectivity to them. For example, tourism development associated with the Gobbins, should where possible be directed to the surrounding settlements of Ballystrudder, Whitehead and Ballycarry, in order to secure the sort of mutual benefits referred to.

7.3.9In specific locations tourism can provide a stimulus for regeneration schemes or may be a key component of mixed use development. For example as part of the Carrickfergus Regeneration Investment Programme, Council is using heritage tourism as a central element of its approach for regenerating the town.

7.3.10While the policy will provide for tourism development within settlements, account will be taken of the nature, size, scale and design of the development and its impact on the appearance and character of the surrounding area and neighbouring residential amenity. Whilst the policy requires high quality design, this aspect, will be afforded substantial weight within Conservation Areas and Areas of Townscape Character. In addition, tourism development may be precluded from particular areas within settlements, for example through alternative land use zonings or designations safeguarding the integrity of specific sites such as those of nature conservation or historic environment importance.

7.3.11Tourism Opportunity Zones have been designated along the regionally important Causeway Coastal Route at Carnfunnock Country Park and at the former Magheramorne Quarry (see District Proposals Maps). Aside from their strategic location along a key tourism route, these Tourism Opportunity Zones have much to offer, including existing outdoor activities and facilities and their capacity to accommodate a range of tourist related development. Within these Tourism Opportunity Zones, tourism development should be sustainable, environmentally sensitive and of high quality design. Proposals within Carnfunnock Country Park should be sensitive to its coastal location and historic and natural features and also comply with Policy HE2 Historic Parks, Gardens and Demesnes. Development at the former Magheramorne Quarry should protect the rich biodiversity and habitats within and adjacent to the site.

Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside

Within Special Countryside Areas and other ‘Vulnerable Areas’28 in the countryside, a proposal for tourism development will only be permitted where it meets the exceptions or circumstances specified in the LDP policy for the particular designation.

Outside of Special Countryside Areas and other ‘Vulnerable Areas’ in the countryside, a proposal for a tourism development will be permitted where it meets the requirements of the relevant tourism policy.

All proposals for tourism development in the countryside must also:

  1. meet the General Policy; and
  2. accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.12This policy applies to all tourism development in the countryside and aligns with the LDP Tourism Strategy set out in Part 1 of the draft Plan Strategy. Accordingly, all the succeeding policies relating to specific forms of tourism development in the countryside must comply with this overarching policy, in addition to meeting the bespoke policy requirements.

7.3.13The General Policy criteria are intended to achieve satisfactory and sustainable forms of development and a high standard of design. The General Policy criteria will therefore be used to assess all proposals for tourism development in the countryside.

7.3.14Good design is particularly important for tourism development in any location because the ability to attract tourists will often be influenced by the visual quality of the development and its success in reflecting local character and distinctiveness. It is also of particular importance in the rural context that tourism development proposals take full account of the General Policy criteria relating to the countryside.

Policy TOU4 Tourist Amenities in the Countryside

New Proposals

The development of a new tourist amenity in the countryside will be permitted where it meets Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside and it is demonstrated that:

  1. it is in association with and requires a site at or close to a particular tourism attraction located in the countryside; or
  2. the type of tourist activity in itself requires a countryside location.

All proposals that include buildings must make provision in existing or replacement buildings, where possible.

Where a proposed tourist amenity is of regional or Borough wide importance or is otherwise significant in terms of the extent of new build or the scale of engineering operations it must demonstrate substantial benefit to the regional and/or the Borough’s tourism offer as well as sustainable benefits to the locality. Such applications must be supported by a tourism benefit statement and a sustainable benefit statement.

Extension/Expansion of an Existing Tourist Amenity

A proposal for the extension or expansion of an existing tourist amenity will be permitted where it meets Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside.

Where possible, such proposals including buildings will be expected to be accommodated through the conversion, reuse or extension of existing buildings on site, unless it can be demonstrated that this is not a feasible option. In circumstances where Council accepts a new or replacement building it should be sited and designed so as to integrate with the overall development.

Any conversion, extension or new building should be of high quality design and respect the scale, materials and finishes of the original building(s) on the site and any historic or architectural interest they may have.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.15A tourist amenity is defined by the Tourism (NI) Order 1992 as an amenity, facility or service provided primarily for tourists but does not include tourist accommodation.

7.3.16Tourist amenities are diverse in terms of their nature, scale and function and not all proposals can be facilitated within a settlement. For example, a visitor centre may have a specific functional need to be located in close proximity to the particular countryside attraction it is intended to serve. The policy therefore provides for tourist amenities in the countryside where the tourism activity and associated facilities require a rural location in terms of their functional or site/area specific requirements.

7.3.17The impact of proposals on rural character, landscape and areas of natural/ historic environment importance is a key consideration in their assessment, particularly within areas designated for such qualities. Proposals associated with particular tourism assets in the countryside will also be assessed against Policy TOU1 Safeguarding of Tourism Assets.

7.3.18In order to facilitate assessment of large scale proposals or those that are significant for the Council area or NI, applications must be accompanied by a tourism benefit statement to demonstrate the value of the proposal in terms of tourism revenue and employment opportunity and also how it will further the aims of any regional or Council’s tourism strategy. Council will usually refer such proposals to Tourism NI for comment in regard to tourism benefit. Such proposals are also required to deliver sustainable benefit to the rural locality and applications must also be accompanied by a sustainable benefit statement to demonstrate such merits. Relevant considerations are set out in Appendix B Tourist Amenities in the Countryside - Sustainability Assessment.

Policy TOU5 Hotels, Guest Houses and Tourist Hostels in the Countryside

The development of a hotel/guest house/tourist hostel in the countryside will be permitted where it complies with Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside and only in any of the following circumstances:

  1. Conversion and re-use of an existing rural building.
  2. Replacement of an existing rural building.
  3. New build proposal on the periphery of a settlement.

In addition the following specific criteria relating to the relevant circumstances must be met:

a) Conversion and re-use of an Existing Rural Building

A proposal for the conversion and re-use of suitable rural buildings for tourism uses, including as a hotel, guest house or tourist hostel will be assessed under Policy HE8 Non-listed Locally Important Building or Vernacular Building.

b) Replacement of an Existing Rural Building
  1. the building is of permanent construction;
  2. the existing building and its replacement are both of sufficient size to facilitate the proposed use in accordance with the accommodation requirements set out in Tourism (NI) Order 1992;
  3. the existing building is not a listed building;
  4. where the existing building is a vernacular building and/or is considered to make an important contribution to local heritage or character, replacement will only be approved where it is demonstrated that the building is not reasonably capable of being made structurally sound or otherwise improved;
  5. the redevelopment proposed will result in significant environmental benefit; and
  6. the overall size and scale of the new development, including car parking and ancillary facilities, will allow it to integrate into the surrounding landscape and will not have a visual impact significantly greater than the existing building.
c) New Build Hotel, Guest House or Tourist Hostel on the periphery of a Settlement
  1. the proposal is firm rather than speculative;
  2. there is no suitable site within the settlement or other nearby settlement;
  3. there are no suitable opportunities in the locality to provide a hotel, guest house or tourist hostel either through:
    • the conversion and re-use of a suitable building(s); or
    • the replacement of a suitable building(s); and
  4. the development is close to the settlement, but will not dominate it, adversely affect landscape setting, or otherwise contribute to urban sprawl.

Where the principle of a new building on the periphery of a settlement is established through meeting the above criteria, Council will apply a sequential locational test, with preference being attributed to sites in the following order:

  • land adjacent to the existing settlement limit, subject to amenity and environmental considerations.
  • a site on the periphery of the settlement limit which currently contains buildings or where the site is already in a degraded or derelict state and there is an opportunity to improve the environment.
  • an undeveloped site close to the settlement where the development could be visually integrated into the landscape.

Any proposed change of use or replacement of a hotel, guest house or tourist hostel approved under this policy to a non tourism use will be resisted, unless it is demonstrated that:

  1. the facility is not viable in the long term, and
  2. there is sufficient alternative provision in the locality to offset the loss of tourism benefit.
Expansion of Existing Hotels, Guest Houses and Tourist Hostels

A proposal for the expansion of an existing hotel, guest house or tourist hostel will be permitted where it meets Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside and the following criteria:

  1. new or replacement building(s) are subsidiary in terms of scale to the existing building(s) and will integrate as part of the overall development; and
  2. any extension or new building should respect the scale, design and materials of the original building(s) on the site and any historic or architectural interest the original property may have.

Justification and Amplification

Conversion and re-use of an Existing Rural Building

7.3.19The potential for the conversion and re-use of suitable rural buildings for tourism accommodation, (including use as a hotel, guest house or tourist hostel), will be assessed under Policy HE8 Non-listed Locally Important Building or Vernacular Building.

Replacement of an Existing Rural Building

7.3.20Replacement of an appropriate building(s) for tourism accommodation, (including use as a hotel, guest house or tourist hostel), will be favourably considered in circumstances where the environmental benefit of full or partial replacement will outweigh the retention and conversion of the building. The condition of the building and the feasibility of repairing and maintaining it will also be taken into account in assessing such proposals. Good design is of paramount importance and redevelopment proposals must be sensitive to the rural setting and local distinctiveness.

New Build Hotel/Guest House/Tourist Hostel on the periphery of a settlement

7.3.21New buildings for these forms of tourist accommodation should usually be located within settlements in order to take advantage of existing services and facilities, provide ready access for visitors and employees and to minimise the impact on rural amenity and character. However, it is important that firm proposals for such projects are not impeded due to a lack of suitable land within settlements, particularly in popular tourist areas. Where the case for a location outside a settlement can be clearly demonstrated; the selected site should be as close to the settlement as possible, subject to amenity and environmental considerations, as this is usually more sustainable than a more remote site. A proposal must also respect the character of the settlement and its setting in the surrounding landscape. This in turn will require careful site selection, layout, design and landscaping. Proposals which are deemed to be acceptable in principle will be required to include sufficient mitigation measures, including landscaping and design, to ameliorate any negative impacts and secure higher quality development.

7.3.22To allow informed consideration all applications made under this policy will be expected to be accompanied with the following information:

  • Sufficient evidence to indicate how firm or realistic the particular proposal is and what sources of finance are available (including any grant aid) to sustain the project.
  • Detailed information of an exhaustive search to illustrate that there is no reasonable prospect of securing a suitable site within the limits of the particular settlement or other nearby settlement.
  • Justification for the particular site chosen and illustrative details of the proposed design and site layout.

7.3.23The grant of planning permission will not in itself allow for inappropriate alternative uses if an approved scheme for some reason does not go ahead. While Council cannot require business enterprises which become uneconomic to continue, alternative land uses will only be approved if there is sufficient alternative accommodation in the locality to provide for tourism benefit in line with any regional or Council’s tourism strategy.

Policy TOU6 Self Catering Accommodation in the Countryside

A proposal for self catering units in the countryside will be permitted where it complies with Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside and only in either of the following circumstances:

  1. one or more new units all located within the grounds of an existing or approved hotel, self catering complex, guest house or holiday park; or
  2. a cluster of three or more new units are to be provided at or close to an existing or approved tourist amenity that is/will be a significant visitor attraction in its own right.

In addition the following specific criteria must be met:

In either circumstance a) or b) above, self catering development is required to be subsidiary in scale and ancillary to the primary tourism use of the site.

Where a cluster of self catering units is proposed in conjunction with and ancillary to a proposed or approved tourist accommodation scheme/or tourist amenity, a condition will be attached to the permission preventing occupation of the units before the primary tourism use is provided and fully operational.

All permissions for self catering accommodation will include a condition requiring the units to be used for holiday letting accommodation only and not for permanent residential accommodation.

The overall design of the self catering scheme, including layout, the provision of amenity open space and the size and detailed design of individual units, must deter permanent residential use. To this end, permitted development rights in respect of plot boundaries will also be removed.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.24This policy provides sustainable opportunities for self catering tourist accommodation in the countryside particularly in areas where tourist amenities and accommodation have become established. The policy will provide for sustainable economic benefits because new self catering accommodation linked with an existing tourism enterprise can create synergy by enhancing its usage, economic viability and attractiveness to tourists. In turn this will support wider tourism initiatives. The policy will also provide sustainable environmental benefit through focusing self catering development in existing nodes of tourism activity, thereby avoiding random development throughout the countryside and safeguarding the value of tourism assets.

7.3.25Where units are proposed in association with a tourist amenity, the policy requires that the tourist amenity must be a significant visitor attraction in its own right. In assessing this, Council will consider the nature and scale of the tourist amenity. Relevant considerations in this regard are likely to include visitor numbers and the provision facilities linked to and enabling usage of the amenity, for example berth for boats, buildings for use as changing areas or the storage of recreational equipment, and car parking. To assist in this assessment, Council may consult with Tourism NI.

7.3.26Where self catering units are permitted on the basis of an associated tourist accommodation or a tourist amenity, it is imperative that the primary tourism use which provides the justification is in place and functioning, before the units become operational.

7.3.27The requirement for approved self catering units to be retained in tourism use and not used for permanent residential accommodation will seek to ensure that tourist accommodation is available to benefit local communities in rural areas and that the unauthorised use of approved tourist accommodation as a private dwelling(s) does not occur. Permanent residential use of self catering units will also be deterred through design. Such units will be required to demonstrate an informal site and road layout with communal car parking and open space only. Individual units must be of appropriate design for holiday use, for example rural cottage style, with possible restrictions on floorspace and building height. Plot divisions between units by means of fences or walls will be prevented through the removal of permitted development rights.

7.3.28Policy HE8 Non-listed Locally Important Building or Vernacular Building and Policy ECD4 Economic Development in the Countryside - Farm/Forestry Diversification may provide other opportunities for small scale, including single unit, self catering accommodation in the countryside.

Policy TOU7 New and Extended Holiday Parks in the Countryside

A proposal for a new holiday park or and extension to an existing facility in the countryside will be permitted where it complies with Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside and will create a high quality and sustainable form of tourism development.

A holiday park proposal must be based on an overall design concept that respects the surrounding landscape, rural character and site context and the application must be accompanied by a layout and landscaping plan (see guidance at Appendix C) to demonstrate that these matters have been adequately addressed.

In addition all the following specific criteria must be met:

  1. the site is located in an area that has the capacity to absorb the holiday park development, without adverse impact on visual amenity and rural character;
  2. effective integration into the landscape must be secured primarily through the utilisation of existing natural or built features. Where appropriate, planted areas or discrete groups of trees will be required along site boundaries in order to soften the visual impact of the development and assist its integration with the surrounding area;
  3. adequate provision (normally around 15% of the site area) is made for communal open space (including play and recreation areas and landscaped areas), as an integral part of the development;
  4. the layout of caravan pitches/motor homes is informal and characterised by discrete groupings or clusters of units separated through the use of appropriate soft landscaping; and
  5. the design of the development, including the design and scale of ancillary buildings and the design of other elements including internal roads, paths, car parking areas, walls and fences, is appropriate for the site and the locality, respecting the best local traditions of form, materials and detailing.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.29Holiday parks contribute to the diversity of the tourist accommodation offer available within the Borough. Such parks offer potential for provision of a range of products within this particular sector, including static caravan holiday homes, holiday chalets and pitches for touring caravans, motor-homes and camping.

7.3.30The scope for integrating a new holiday park, particularly a static park, or a large scale extension to an existing facility is often limited by the extent and layout of such development and by specific locational preferences such as proximity to the coastline outside of settlements. Appropriate site selection is therefore crucial in order to ensure visual integration into the landscape and to avoid detrimental impact upon environmentally sensitive sites.

7.3.31The policy provisions also reflect the importance of layout and landscaping in order to achieve high quality development that integrates into the landscape and respects the surrounding rural context as well as providing a pleasant environment for users of the holiday park. These requirements help reinforce recent trends in the holiday park industry which are to a large extent driven by customer demand for improved space standards, greater privacy, generous provision for amenity open space and a pleasant landscaped environment. It is acknowledged that new holiday parks incorporating these elements may typically require somewhat larger sites than traditional high density parks. This factor makes good site selection all the more important. In this context, a high quality proposal in terms of layout and landscaping will still be refused planning permission if the site is fundamentally unsuitable.

7.3.32Further guidance on site layout and landscape design is set out in Appendix C Landscape Design Consideration for Holiday Parks.

Policy TOU8 Major Tourism Development in the Countryside – Exceptional Circumstances

A proposal for a major tourism development in the countryside will only be permitted if it fully complies with Policy TOU3 All Tourism Development in the Countryside and meets all of the following exceptional circumstances:

  1. demonstration of exceptional benefit to the regional tourism industry;
  2. demonstration that the proposal requires a countryside location by reason of its size or site specific or functional requirements; and
  3. demonstration of sustainable benefit to the locality.

All proposals brought forward under exceptional circumstances must be accompanied by a statement demonstrating how the proposal meets all the above criteria.

Justification and Amplification

7.3.33This policy makes provision for major tourism development projects in the countryside in exceptional circumstances for proposals that offer exceptional benefit to the tourism industry in Northern Ireland. The ability of the proposed development in itself to attract tourists to Northern Ireland will be significant in assessing whether it will offer exceptional benefit to the tourism industry. A further consideration will be the extent to which the proposed development meets a regional or sub-regional market need that is identified in any regional tourism strategy.

7.3.34This policy will not facilitate approval of relatively minor proposals for tourism development, for example a single hotel or guest house or small scale self catering development, as such proposals are unlikely in themselves to offer exceptional benefit to the tourism industry or be of a scale that requires a countryside location. However, a proposal that offers a tourist amenity likely to attract significant numbers of visitors along with a commensurate level and quality of visitor accommodation will fall to be considered under this policy.

7.3.35To allow informed consideration all applications made under this policy will be expected to be accompanied with the following information:

  • A tourism benefit statement that will demonstrate the value of the proposal in terms of tourism revenue, increased visitor numbers to Northern Ireland and the locality, and also how it will further the aims of any regional tourism strategy.
  • Sufficient evidence to demonstrate how realistic the particular proposal is and what sources of finance are available (including any grant aid) to sustain the project.
  • Justification for the particular site chosen and illustrative details of the proposed design and site layout.
  • A sustainable benefit statement taking account of the considerations set out in Appendix B Tourist Amenities in the Countryside - Sustainability Assessment.

7.3.36All such proposals in the countryside to be considered under exceptional circumstances will be subject to consultation with Tourism NI. The impact of proposals on rural character, landscape and natural/historic heritage assets is an important consideration in their assessment, particularly within areas designated for such qualities.

  • 28 - Refer to Part 1 Tourism and Table 5.7 Categories for Tourism Potential in Mid and East Antrim

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