5.1.1As highlighted in Chapter 3.0, a number of factors contribute to quality of life and help make Mid and East Antrim a good place to live and work. To assure continued progress, it is important that the Local Development Plan provides for the appropriate level of growth in the right places and that it meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations. The Spatial Growth Strategy provides a strategic framework for realising the vision and objectives of our LDP and to inform it we have taken account of the following:

  • Regional Development Strategy 2035
  • Strategic Planning Policy Statement
  • Existing Area Plans (Growth Strategy and Settlement Hierarchy)
  • LDP evidence base as contained in the relevant topic-based papers and technical supplements

Regional Development Strategy 2035 (RDS)

5.1.2The Regional Development Strategy contains a Spatial Framework that divides Northern Ireland into five components based on functions and geography. In effect, it identifies a hierarchy of settlement types and provides Spatial Framework Guidance that is a key factor influencing the future distribution of development across the region. The guidance in this regional strategy has been one of the main building blocks in developing our Spatial Growth Strategy. The RDS Spatial Framework and accompanying guidance and specific reference to places within Mid and East Antrim are summarised in Table 5.1.

5.1.3The RDS Spatial Framework identifies Ballymena and Larne towns as ‘main hubs’. Larne is also identified as a ‘gateway’ due to its strategic coastal location and important port functions. Carrickfergus is grouped within the major conurbation of Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area and is seen to have a complementary role within this urban entity. The remaining settlements in our Borough are considered by the RDS as part of the Rural Area where, ‘the aim is to sustain communities living in smaller settlements the open countryside'. The RDS also acknowledges that a strong network of smaller towns supported by villages helps to sustain and service the rural community. A sustainable approach to further development is sought so as to ensure that growth does not exceed the capacity of the essential infrastructure expected for modern living.

5.1.4The Hierarchy of Settlements and Related Infrastructure Wheel in the RDS 2035 illustrates the patterns of service provision that are likely to be appropriate at different spatial levels, including villages, small towns, regional towns and cities. Small settlements and the rural area complete the hierarchy of locations where development may take place. The model recognises the strong relationship between settlement size and the levels of service that can be supported.

5.1.5The RDS also recognises that:

  • Settlements often provide either a greater or lesser range of services than the core population may dictate. It is not appropriate therefore to consider ‘urban’ population alone in classifying settlements within the district – the population of rural hinterlands can also support services in urban centres.
  • Service centres tend to be hierarchical, with a large number of centres providing a smaller range of services, and a smaller number of centres providing a wider range. Each class of settlement provides services lower down in the hierarchy.
  • Access to services and facilities is important. Creating a critical mass to support a level of services raises challenges for service providers in meeting the needs of spatially dispersed populations.
Table 5.1 RDS Hierarchy of Settlement and Spatial Framework Guidance

RDS Hierarchy

Spatial Framework Guidance (SFG)

SFG detailed comments relevant to Mid & East Antrim

Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area (BMUA)

includes Carrickfergus


Promote urban economic development At key locations throughout the BMUA and ensure sufficient land is available for jobs.


Manage the movement of people and goods within the BMUA.


Protect and enhance the quality of the setting of the BMUA and its environmental assets.

Promote the regeneration of Carrickfergus town centre.

Protect areas of high scenic value, undeveloped coastline, Belfast Lough and the hills around the BMUA from development.

Protect and enhance the network of open spaces in BMUA.

Make use of green space to help manage access to important wildlife sites and minimise the potential for damage due to visitor pressure.

Hubs and Clusters of Hubs

includes Ballymena and Larne


Identify and consolidate the roles and functions of settlements within the clusters.


Promote economic development opportunities at Hubs.


Grow the population in the Hubs.

Ballymena benefits from an excellent location on the edge of the BMUA with easy access to the International and City airports and Ports of Larne and Belfast. It has a significant retail centre which is complimented by nearby tourism attractions, including the Causeway Coast and Glens.

Larne is situated in a strategic coastal location. It provides strong linkages between NI and Scotland. Its road and rail links form part of the Trans-European Networks. Its position on the Causeway Coastal Route has potential to create a centre for tourism

The towns of Ballymena, Larne and Antrim, in our neighbouring council, have the potential to cluster.

Rural Area


Small towns


Small settlements

Open countryside in Mid and East Antrim


Sustain rural communities living in smaller settlements and the open countryside.


Improve accessibility for rural communities.

Establish the role of multi-functional town centres as the prime location for business, housing, administration, leisure and cultural facilities for both urban and rural communities.

Revitalise small towns and villages.

Facilitate the development of rural industries, businesses and enterprises in appropriate locations.

Encourage sustainable and sensitive development.

Gateways and Corridors

includes Larne, A8 and A26


Strengthen the Gateways for regional competitiveness.

Larne has the second largest sea port in NI and is also an important location for power generation and for gas and electricity interconnectors with Scotland.

Key transport corridors (A8 Larne-Belfast and A26 Ballymena-Antrim) are essential for providing access to the gateways.

5.1.6Our Spatial Growth Strategy will help support the realisation of our LDP strategic objectives by broadly setting out where growth should be directed, in terms of housing, employment and commercial development over the plan period. The strategy acknowledges the role of our settlements within Mid and East Antrim, the regional importance of our larger settlements, and the need to sustain rural communities living in our smaller settlements and the open countryside. The Spatial Growth Strategy will primarily be delivered through the strategic spatial proposals and policies set out in the remainder of Part 1.

5.1.7The Spatial Growth Strategy has also informed the strategic subject policies in Part 2 of the draft Plan Strategy and, through these policies, will ultimately influence the allocation of land for development in the Local Policies Plan.

Our Spatial Growth Strategy is set out below and in Map 5.1.

SGS1 Spatial Growth Strategy

Table 5.2 Spatial Growth Strategy

Link to RDS Spatial Framework Guidance (SFG)

Manage growth to secure sustainable patterns of development across Mid and East Antrim.


Focus major population growth and economic development in the three main towns of Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne, strengthening their roles as the prime locations for business, retail, housing, administration, leisure and cultural facilities within the Borough.

SFG1, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 15

Facilitate appropriate growth in our small towns to provide opportunities for business, retail, housing and services.

SFG13, 14

Sustain rural communities living in and around villages and small settlements.

Facilitate sustainable development in the open countryside, balancing the need to protect the environment and rural character while sustaining a strong and vibrant rural community.

Justification and Amplification

5.1.8Our proposed Spatial Growth Strategy will help achieve the RDS objectives of promoting growth and economic development opportunities in the ‘main hubs’ of Ballymena and Larne and support the role of Carrickfergus within the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area whilst sustaining rural communities living in smaller settlements and the open countryside allowing them to maximise their potential.

5.1.9The focus of growth in the main towns recognises the critical mass they sustain in regard to populations and jobs. This will also capitalise on the benefits arising from the efficient use of existing community facilities, services and infrastructure in the main towns and their strategic location on key transport corridors, including the gateway status of Larne. It is anticipated that main town centres will be reinforced by retail, office and mixed use development and a town centre first approach will be adopted for retailing, administration and commercial leisure, to help maintain their vitality and viability (see Retail Strategy). Main towns will accommodate economic development and new residential development within the existing urban fabric, and where possible on previously developed land. This means protecting existing, and where necessary providing new, economic development zonings to maintain a generous supply of economic development land (see Economic Development Strategy). Similarly, housing zonings will ensure land availability over the plan period to meet housing needs (see Strategic Housing Allocation and Management of Housing Supply).

5.1.10Small towns will support the main towns and provide opportunities for economic development, retail and services and accommodate residential development in keeping with the location, scale, function and character of the settlement. Where necessary this could also include appropriate leisure, recreation and community facilities.

5.1.11Our villages will be sustained, consolidated and revitalised and they will continue to perform a role as local service centres to meet the daily needs of the rural area and accommodate rural businesses and appropriately scaled residential development.

5.1.12Small settlements will act as a focal point for the rural community, particularly in the more isolated parts of the Borough. They often take the form of a rural cluster or crossroads development where consolidation of the built form can provide opportunities for single dwellings and/or small groups of houses or small rural businesses. The level of development should be proportionate to the location, size and scale of the settlement.

5.1.13Within the open countryside, outside of designated Special Countryside Areas, single dwellings and appropriate types of economic development, such as farm diversification, agriculture and forestry development and sustainable tourism and minerals proposals will also be facilitated to sustain vibrant rural communities. In order to strike an appropriate balance with the protection of the environment, proposals should cluster, consolidate, group with established buildings or re-use buildings so they do not detract from the landscape or rural character. In addition, they should respect the natural and historic environment (see Natural Heritage and Historic Environment policies).

Map 5.1 Mid and East Antrim Spatial Growth Strategy incorporating Settlement Hierarchy

Delivery of Spatial Growth Strategy

5.1.14Our Spatial Growth Strategy will be delivered by the following strategic spatial proposals and policies relating to various sectors, set out in Part 1, and supported by appropriate strategic subject polices, set out in Part 2:

  • Strategic Housing Allocation Strategy
  • Economic Development Strategy
  • Retail Strategy
  • Tourism Strategy
  • Transport Strategy
  • Open Space Strategy

5.1.15Whilst the Spatial Growth Strategy and associated sectoral strategies are largely aimed at promoting sustainable housing and economic growth throughout our Borough, sustainable development must also pay due regard to environmental considerations. This is necessary because our unique environment in itself is worthy of protection. In addition, the safeguarding and enhancement of our environment also has positive economic and social implications. Accordingly, those landscapes and natural/historic heritage assets of strategic significance will be protected through Strategic Countryside Designations, set out in the Countryside Strategy in Part 1.

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