1.1 The Legal Basis for the Local Development Plan
1.1.1The Local Development Plan (LDP) is being prepared under the provisions of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (hereafter referred to as the Planning Act) and the Planning (Local Development Plan) Regulations (NI) 2015 (hereafter referred to as the LDP Regulations). The Planning Act requires the LDP to be produced in two stages – the first being the Plan Strategy, followed upon adoption, by the Local Policies Plan.
1.1.2In regard to the Plan Strategy, the Planning Act sets out the following requirements:
- The Council’s objectives in relation to the development and use of land in the District;
- Its strategic policies for the implementation of those objectives; and
- Such other matters as may be prescribed.
1.1.3To discharge this legislative duty, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has prepared this draft LDP document, the draft Plan Strategy (hereafter referred to as the draft Plan Strategy) for the period 2015-2030.
1.1.4The draft Plan Strategy has been prepared taking account of the Regional Development Strategy 2035 (RDS), other policies and guidance issued by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), and other relevant regional and local plans and strategies. Further details of the policy context informing the draft Plan Strategy are contained in Chapter 2.0.
1.2 The Purpose of the Local Development Plan
1.2.1The main purpose of the LDP is to inform the general public, statutory authorities, service providers, developers and other interested parties of the policy framework and land use proposals that will implement the strategic objectives of the RDS and the LDP objectives and guide decisions on planning applications for development in Mid and East Antrim until 2030.
1.2.2The Plan will aim to provide sufficient land to meet anticipated needs for housing, employment, and services; all supported by adequate infrastructure, over the Plan period. It will also seek to ensure that all new development is of high quality and located in suitable places - which themselves should be enhanced by the development. A ‘suitable place’ will generally be a location where the development proposal can help meet economic and social needs without compromising the quality of the environment. This is often referred to as ‘sustainable development’ which has been defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
1.2.3In seeking to deliver sustainable development, the Plan will serve to implement the regional direction set out in the RDS and other central government initiatives.
1.3 The Local Development Plan Process
1.3.1There are four key stages in the LDP process. These are described below along with brief commentary on how the process has unfolded up to this point, in Mid and East Antrim.
Initial Plan Preparation
1.3.2This initial stage of the process was completed when Council published its Preferred Options Paper (POP) in June 2017. The main purpose of the POP is to inform the next stage in the LDP process, i.e. the Plan Strategy.
1.3.3Building on the emerging evidence base1, the POP identified some 36 key strategic planning issues relevant to Mid and East Antrim, set out alternative options for addressing most of these key issues, and highlighted Council’s Preferred Option. The POP also included an initial policy review of the operational policies contained in the suite of Planning Policy Statements (PPSs) published by the former Department of Environment (now DfI), also taking account of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS).
1.3.4The POP was subject to 12 weeks public consultation which resulted in 132 responses from members of the public and statutory consultees. A public consultation report on the POP was published by Council in November 2017.
1.3.5The Plan Strategy (PS) is the first of two development plan documents, which together will comprise the LDP. The Plan Strategy sets out the LDP vision and strategic planning objectives for the Borough. It also sets out a spatial growth strategy that will indicate in broad terms, the amount of new growth that will be provided over the Plan period and the locations where various types of development (such as housing or retail) will be facilitated. It also indicates, again in broad terms, areas of the countryside which are sensitive or vulnerable to development or certain types of development, where restrictions may apply. These elements of the draft Plan Strategy are contained in Part 1 of the document.
1.3.6The Plan Strategy also includes a range of strategic subject policies to properly manage development across the Borough. This element of the draft Plan Strategy is contained in Part 2 of the document.
1.3.7The draft Plan Strategy as comprised in this and supporting documents will be subject to public consultation, independent examination and consideration by DfI before it is ultimately adopted by Council. Once the Plan Strategy is adopted, its strategic planning policies will replace those regional operational policies currently retained within the various topic-based PPSs. Further details relating to these transitional arrangements are set out in the SPPS. The adopted Plan strategy will also replace the strategic elements of the existing development plans relevant to Mid and East Antrim (refer to Chapter 2.0 for further details).
Local Policies Plan
1.3.8The Local Policies Plan (LPP) is the second document making up the LDP. The LPP will be prepared within the framework provided by the adopted Plan Strategy. It will incorporate site specific proposals such as land use zonings for housing, economic development and town centre development opportunity sites. It will also contain local designations such as settlement limits for all settlements designated through the Plan Strategy, town centre boundaries and local landscape and environmental designations.
1.3.9The LPP will also be subject to public consultation, independent examination and consideration by DfI, before the LDP in its totality is adopted by Council. Other assessments referred to below under the heading Supporting Assessments and Appraisals will be further applied in Stage 3. Once the LDP is adopted it will replace existing development plans covering Mid and East Antrim in their entirety.
Monitoring and Review
1.3.10Once adopted, we will monitor the implementation of our LDP annually to ensure that progress in meeting objectives is being made. An annual monitoring report will be submitted to the Department which will focus on key indicators such as the amount of land zoned for housing and economic development which has been used and housing completions over the year. We will also undertake regular reviews of the LDP at least every five years from the date of adoption and submit findings to the Department. Initial indicators and targets are set out in Technical Supplement 1 Monitoring and Review, accompanying the draft Plan Strategy.
1.4 Procedural Matters
1.4.1In line with the LDP Regulations, Council published a Plan Timetable in August 2016. There have been two subsequent revisions to the Timetable, the first in June 2017 and the second and latest in April 2019. The timeframe for key stages and indicative dates is outlined in our current Local Development Plan timetable agreed between the Council and Central Government. This is subject to annual review.
1.4.2In line with the Planning (Statement of Community Involvement) Regulations (NI) 2015, Council published its Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) in August 2016. A revised SCI was published in August 2019. The revised SCI sets how the Council involves the community on the preparation of the LDP and in participating in the development management function. The draft Plan Strategy has been and will continue to be progressed in accordance with the revised Statement.
1.4.3In order to meet the requirements set out in the Planning Act relating to the need for the Plan Strategy to take account of the RDS , other policy and guidance issued by the Department and other relevant government strategies and plans; Council has engaged key consultees representing relevant central government departments and agencies. Representatives from relevant Council departments have also been engaged to ensure that due account has been taken of Council’s Community Plan, as well as other Council strategies and initiatives. This engagement was undertaken by way of a series of eight ‘Project Management Team’ meetings held between April 2018 and April 2019 and has had a significant influence on the development of the strategic policies and proposals.
1.4.4The Planning Act requires the Plan Strategy to be adopted by resolution of the Council, following approval by the Department. Accordingly, Elected Members have also been engaged in the development of draft Plan Strategy, to ensure that the document is generally aligned with Council’s strategic priorities. This engagement was facilitated through a series of six councillor workshops held between November 2018 and March 2019.
1.4.5Given that the LDP Regulations identify neighbouring councils as statutory consultees, the development of our draft Plan Strategy has also been informed by engagement with our three neighbouring councils of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, and Mid Ulster District Council. Because Carrickfergus falls within the Belfast Metropolitan Area, there has also been engagement with Belfast City Council and other councils in the Metropolitan area, through the Metropolitan Area Spatial Working Group. Further details as to how we have engaged with other councils on specific issues are referred to in the relevant Technical Supplements.
1.5 Supporting Assessments and Appraisals
1.5.1The draft Plan Strategy has been subject to a number of assessments and appraisals which are referred to in the summary below. Each of these is contained within a separate supporting document accompanying the draft Plan Strategy.
Sustainability Appraisal (SA) incorporating Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
1.5.2The Planning Act places a duty on Council in exercising its LDP function, to do so, with the objective of furthering sustainable development. It also requires a Sustainability Appraisal (SA) to be carried out for the Plan Strategy and for the Local Policies Plan in order to promote sustainable development through the integration of social, economic and environmental considerations into the preparation process.
1.5.3The SA also incorporates Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in order to comply with the objective of the European Directive 2001/42/EC (SEA Directive) which is to provide for a high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes with the view to promoting sustainable development. The SEA Directive was transposed into Northern Ireland legislation through the Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations (NI) 2004, which requires plans to be subjected to, and informed by, an SEA.
1.5.4SA can be distinguished from SEA by virtue of its wider scope as it covers the social and economic effects of plans, as well as the more environmental implications. Whilst the requirement to carry out both assessments are distinct, it is possible to address both through a combined appraisal process, i.e. SA incorporating SEA. The Sustainability Appraisal that accompanies the draft Plan Strategy incorporates both these aspects and explains the rationale for the approach taken.
Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)
1.5.5A further requirement placed upon Council, as the responsible planning authority, is to undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) in accordance with Article 6 (3) of the Habitats Directive in regard to the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna. The HRA concerns Natura 2000 sites, the collective term for the protection and management of European sites and their habitats and species. These sites often cover extensive areas in Mid and East Antrim and consist of:
- Special Protected Areas (SPAs) – designated as sites important for birds.
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – designated to protect important habitats and species.
- Ramsar sites – designated to protect wetlands of international importance.
1.5.6The HRA is carried out so as to identify and assess whether the LDP policies and proposals, either individually or in combination, are likely to significantly affect a European Site.
1.5.7The Rural Needs Act (NI) 2016 places a duty on public authorities to have regard to rural needs in developing, adopting, implementing, or revising policies, strategies and plans. It is therefore incumbent upon Council to carefully consider the impact of the LDP policies and proposals upon the needs of rural dwellers and communities. A Rural Needs Impact Assessment, which incorporates the principles of rural proofing, accompanies the draft Plan Strategy.
Equality (Section 75) Screening Report
1.5.8Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, requires public authorities to carry out their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between:
- persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status, and sexual orientation;
- men and women generally;
- persons with a disability and persons without; and
- persons with dependant and persons without.
The Act also requires promotion of good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion and racial group.
1.5.9The draft Plan Strategy is accompanied by a draft Equality (Section 75) Screening Report examining the likely effects of its policies and proposals on the promotion of equality of opportunity amongst the listed groups.
1.6 Structure of the draft Plan Strategy
1.6.1The structure of the LDP draft Plan Strategy has been previously referred to (under the LDP Process Section of this Introduction). This structure is shown as a diagram in Figure 1.2, below.
1.7 Using the LDP Plan Strategy
1.7.1Under the new Plan led system introduced by the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, the determination of a planning application, where it is relevant to the LDP, must be made in accordance with the Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The LDP, once adopted in full, will therefore assume primary importance in the determination of planning applications, albeit that other material considerations may be afforded some degree of weight, depending upon the circumstances of each case. Under the transitional arrangements set out in The Planning (Local Development Plan) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015, applications submitted following the adoption of the LDP Plan Strategy, will be assessed against that document and the extant statutory Plan for the area. Any policy conflict between these documents is to be resolved in favour of the adopted Plan Strategy.
1.7.2Any planning application submitted to Council2 following the adoption of the Plan Strategy will therefore need to be assessed against the relevant strategic planning policies and strategic planning framework contained in this document. In order to ascertain which policies are relevant to their development proposals, applicants should firstly refer to Part 1 of the Plan Strategy which sets out strategic spatial proposals and associated policies linked to the LDP Spatial Growth Strategy and Countryside Strategy. These will comprise of the following:
- Spatial Growth Strategy and Settlement Hierarchy
- Strategic Housing Allocation
- Economic Development Strategy
- Retail Hierarchy
- Transport Strategy
- Open Space Strategy
- Countryside Strategy
1.7.3These elements of the Plan Strategy are largely spatial in nature and are accompanied by maps. Both the maps and associated policies will provide information on the general locations where development (or a particular type of development) is likely to be considered appropriate or inappropriate.
1.7.4Applicants should then refer to Part 2 of the Plan Strategy and should consider firstly, Policy GP1 which sets out General Policy criteria for all development. These policy criteria apply to all development proposals and the Council must consider them when taking decisions on planning applications for which it is responsible.
1.7.5Having considered the proposal under the general policy criteria, applicants should then refer to the Strategic Subject Policies set out in the remainder of Part 2. These policies are set out under particular subject areas linked to the five main themes in the LDP. Applicants should focus on the particular Strategic Subject Policy relevant to their proposal. For example, for a proposal for housing development within a settlement, the applicant should refer to the housing policies under the Building Sustainable Communities theme. However, it should be noted that more than one Strategic Subject Policy may need to be taken into account. For example, if the proposed housing development is in proximity to a river or the coast, the applicant will also need to take due account of the Strategic Subject Policies relating to flood risk. These policies should be used by developers and will also be considered by Council when there will be a direct or indirect relevance to a particular type of development, or impact on a particular type of asset such as the historic environment or natural environment.
1.7.6In addition to referring to Parts 1 and 2 as explained above, applicants will also ultimately need to refer to the Local Spatial Policies applicable to particular local zonings or local designations. Such local zonings could be for housing or economic development. Local designations could include settlement development limits, town centre boundaries, or local landscape or environmental designations. These will be set out in the LPP. This second element of the LDP will be worked up, published and adopted subsequent to the adoption of the Plan Strategy by Council. Accordingly, these policies too will ultimately need to be taken into account when formulating development proposals.
1.7.7Pending adoption of the LPP, the spatial definition of local zonings and local designations in existing Area Plans and the associated policies will continue to apply during the interim period, to the extent that they do not conflict with strategic designations and policies contained within the adopted Plan Strategy.
1.7.8All policies considered relevant to the proposed development will be taken into account by Council in the determination of a planning application. In assessing the proposal, Council will consider all relevant policies in the round. This means that applicants should not read policies in isolation, as more than one policy could apply to any proposal.
1.7.9Within the overriding context of relevant legal requirements, Council will also apply a proportionate approach in decision making. This means that account will be taken of such matters as the scale of the proposal and its potential economic, social and environmental impacts. Where the LDP uses terms such as ‘unacceptable adverse impact’, or ‘significant adverse impact’, or ‘public benefit’, the interpretation of such terms remains with the Council in the exercise of its statutory planning functions.
1.7.10Unless otherwise required through legislation, the information required to make decisions, including that required of applicants, will remain a matter to be determined by Council in the exercise of its statutory planning functions. In determining the information requirements, Council may consider such factors as: the nature, scale and potential impact of a proposal (proportionality); the existing evidence base; and the feasibility of acquiring new evidence.
1.7.11The value to developers of considering all the potentially relevant policies, along with the associated spatial information, at an early stage in the development process is strongly emphasised. Greatest benefit will be realised when policies are considered in the concept and early design stages, rather than at later formal stages. Engagement with Council’s Planning department and other relevant public authorities is therefore strongly encouraged as early as possible in the preparation of development proposals.
- 1 - A series of 14 topic based papers informing the POP, plus our annual housing monitor are available on the Council website.
- 2 - The relevant planning authority in most instances will be Council, but could also be DfI who determine regionally significant planning applications or Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) who determine planning appeals. For the purposes of this section Council is assumed to be the planning authority.