5.8.1Adequate and appropriate provision for new and accessible open space and recreation facilities to meet the needs of all the residents of our Borough, is fundamental to building stronger, safe and healthy communities, as aimed for in our Community Plan. Open space is essential for amenity, play and recreation purposes and contributes positively to the character, attractiveness and vitality of our built, natural and marine environment. It also supports nature conservation and biodiversity, acts as a buffer between conflicting land uses, assists place-making, helps reduce flood risk, promotes pedestrian linkages and provides ‘green lungs’ that can help to improve air quality. Ultimately, open space and the use of such space contributes to the health and quality of life for all.
5.8.2The SPPS recognises that open space, sport and outdoor recreation support many cultural, social, economic, health and environmental benefits and sets out six regional strategic objectives (paragraph 6.201). The SPPS then states that councils should bring forward an Open Space Strategy reflecting the approach of the SPPS, tailored to the plan area.
5.8.3The LDP strategic approach to open space is set out in our policy aims below and SGS9 Open Space Strategy and strives to reflect the aim, objectives and policy approach of the SPPS.
To protect existing open space within the Borough;
To provide a strategic policy framework for the provision and protection of greenways as part of a broader green and blue infrastructure7 network, in recognition of their multiple benefits for amenity, recreation, health and wellbeing and the environment.
To secure appropriate and sufficient new open space to meet a range of community needs;
To provide good accessibility to open spaces and connectivity between them; and
To ensure that new open space and sporting facilities are of high quality design, in the right location, accessible to all and sympathetic to the historic and natural environment.
5.8.4The policy aims will be delivered primarily through the open space strategic subject policies set out in Part 2.
5.8.5For the purposes of the LDP, open space is taken to mean all open space of public value. This includes not just land, but also inland bodies of water such as rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs which may offer opportunities for sport and outdoor recreation and are often of significant amenity value. These are a broad range of open space types, such as public parks and gardens, outdoors sports facilities (with natural or artificial surfaces) such as pitches, tennis courts and bowling greens, outdoor play areas, amenity open space often, but not exclusively in housing developments, greenways/pathways, allotments and community gardens, natural and semi-natural urban green and blue spaces, cemeteries, churchyards and civic spaces including squares and other hard surfaced areas. Open space of public value will not fall within the RDS definition of ‘brownfield/previously-developed sites’.
SGS9 Open Space Strategy
The Open Space Strategy comprises the following elements:
Protection of open space: The LDP will support the retention and enhancement of existing open spaces within Mid and East Antrim and new sites identified in the Local Policies Plan.
Facilitating the development of regional and local community greenways as part of a green and blue infrastructure network: The LDP will support the delivery and protection of the following regional greenways proposed within the Borough:
Belfast to Larne (Primary Network)
Belfast to Carrickfergus (Secondary Network)
Mossley to Carrickfergus via Greenisland (Secondary Network)
Ballyclare to Ballymena (Secondary Network)
Ballymena to Cushendall (Secondary Network)
Ballymena to Kilrea (Secondary Network)
Proposals that protect, complement, extend or improve this network will be supported. The LDP will also support the delivery and protection of local community greenways within settlements and potentially connecting to the regional network beyond settlements. These will be identified in the Local Policies Plan.
Provision for and facilitating of new public open space: The LDP will support the delivery and protection of new public open space over the Plan period where Council or other public bodies identify such a need and there is a commitment to delivery. The LDP will also support delivery and protection of ancillary open space associated with housing developments.
Provision for and facilitating of play space for children: The LDP will support the delivery and protection of new space for children (outside housing developments) where Council or other public bodies identify such a need. The LDP will also support the delivery of new play space for children associated with housing developments.
Provision for and facilitating of sport and outdoor recreation facilities: The LDP will support firm proposals for the delivery of new or reconfigured public playing pitches in accessible locations and in accordance with needs identified in Council's Playing Pitch Strategy.
Provision for and facilitating of community growing spaces and allotments: The LDP will support firm proposals for the delivery of new or extended community growing spaces and allotments in accessible locations, particularly for walking and cycling.
Provision for cemetery development: The LDP will support firm and appropriate proposals for the delivery of new cemeteries or extensions to existing cemeteries to meet identified needs.
Justification and Amplification
Protection of open space
5.8.6There is a need to balance development pressures for competing land uses and to give adequate protection to existing open space. However, it is acknowledged that there may be exceptional circumstances where the loss of a portion of open space may be acceptable, taking account of other benefits that new development might bring. Policy OSL1 Protection of Open Space sets out these exceptions.
Facilitating the development of regional and local community greenways as part of a green and blue infrastructure network
5.8.7Typically green and blue infrastructure comprises natural and semi-natural landscape elements that can, in combination with more formal open spaces be connected to form a green infrastructure network. For example, green open spaces, natural grasslands, hedgerows, copses, bushes, orchards and woodlands. The blue elements relate to water features such as lakes, ponds and rivers and there is often potential for these to link in with the green elements to form a comprehensive green and blue infrastructure network.
5.8.8Regional greenways are designated through the DfI ‘Exercise – Explore-Enjoy: A Strategic Plan for Greenways’ (2016). Details of their broad location are set out on the District Proposals Maps, save for the Ballymena to Kilrea route which does not follow a disused transport route. The purpose of this Strategic Plan is to provide a framework to assist Councils and other bodies to develop their own local schemes as part of a Greenway Network for the entire region. It aims to encourage an increase in the number of people walking and cycling as a regular part of everyday life through the building of a connected and accessible regional Greenway Network which significantly increases the length of traffic-free routes. It identifies routes that should be explored to develop a Primary Greenway Network from which a Secondary Greenway Network could progressively extend across the region. Six routes pass through Mid and East Antrim, one of which (Belfast to Larne) is part of the Primary Network. DfI’s Small Grants for Greenways programme is a three stage competition which provides funding for successful Councils to develop feasibility studies and detailed designs for assessment. Further work on a capital grant scheme is being considered by the Department to assist in the delivery of greenway schemes that have completed a detailed design.
5.8.9Within or close to settlements, linear open spaces (with or without pathways) that link the green and blue elements are often known as community greenways or paths. The Strategic Plan recognises these as forming the third level of the greenway network. Examples of such could include river corridors, disused railways and walking or cycle routes. Community greenways provide multiple benefits including, doorstep opportunities to connect local communities to their local green space and neighbouring communities, alongside environmental and ecological benefits.
5.8.10Details of designated community greenways will be set out in the Local Policies Plan, informed by other strategies such as Council’s Cycling Routes Masterplan. Where opportunities exist Council will work with neighbouring councils to ensure greenway linkages across council boundaries are facilitated. Proposals for greenways will be assessed against the General Policy and Policy OSL2 Greenways. This specific policy will also protect greenway routes from development that could prejudice their retention.
Provision for and facilitating of new public open space
5.8.11There are a wide variety of award-winning parks and open spaces across Mid and East Antrim. This includes urban parks, like the People’s Park in Ballymena, urban wildlife refuges, like Carrickfergus Mill Ponds and woodlands, such as Diamond Jubilee Wood in Whitehead created by Council and the Woodland Trust in 2012.
5.8.12The LDP seeks to support the provision of new and improved open space at appropriate locations throughout the Borough to serve the current and future needs of residents and visitors, whether delivered by Council or other public bodies such as the Woodland Trust or National Trust. In addition, new residential development should also make appropriate provision for open space in accordance with Policy OSL4 Public Open Space in New Residential Development as it contributes to the creation of a sustainable and quality residential environment.
Provision for and facilitating of play space for children
5.8.13Mid and East Antrim currently benefits from 70 equipped children’s play areas spread across the Borough, and all but one are maintained by Council. Council is committed to enhancing opportunities for play for all children and young people, regardless of their perceived abilities or their location within the Borough. The ‘Out to Play Strategy’ provides a strategic framework for all types of play across the Borough. It aims to provide a range of high quality accessible play spaces and facilities and maximise use of fixed and non-fixed play facilities.
5.8.14The LDP will help meet these aims by requiring provision of play spaces and where appropriate new fixed or equipped children’s play areas within new housing developments in accordance with Policy OSL4 Public Open Space in New Residential Development. Alternatively, a developer contribution may be sought for new or upgraded facilities in the locality. This will normally be identified at Local Policies Plan stage through a Key Site Requirement on large sites zoned for housing. Development proposals for play areas outside of housing developments in appropriate locations will also be supported in accordance with Policy OSL3 New Open Space Provision.
Provision for and facilitating ofsport and outdoor recreation facilities
5.8.15The Borough benefits from a range of sport and outdoor recreational facilities including playing pitches, multi-sport facilities, neighbourhood MUGAs, outdoor gyms, tennis courts and cricket and bowling greens, golf courses and three leisure centres.
5.8.16In regard to open space provision for outdoor sport and recreation, we currently fall somewhat short of the Fields in Trust (FiT) recommended provision of 2.4 hectares per 1000 population insofar as it relates to playing pitches. It is currently recognised that the northern sector of Carrickfergus town has a particular deficit of public playing pitches. Council will bring forward a Playing Pitch Strategy that will aim to increase the amount of synthetic pitches available within the Borough, particularly through the upgrade of existing grass pitches. Council will also foster relationships with local schools to allow their existing or planned pitch developments to become available for wider community use, especially in areas where there is a deficit of public playing pitches. Accordingly, land for new playing pitches will only be zoned in the LPP in circumstances where Council or education authorities have committed to their development.
5.8.17It is important that any new sport or outdoor recreation facilities are well designed and located appropriately to ensure they are accessible, and respect residential amenity. The historic and natural environment should also be protected particularly in the countryside and in coastal locations. All such proposals should be in accordance with Policy OSL5 Sport and Recreation Facilities.
Provision for and facilitating of Community Growing Spaces and Allotments
5.8.18Council’s Community Plan recognises the positive contribution community growing spaces and allotments make to health and wellbeing and the creation of shared space and a Community Growing Strategy is under development. Council currently have three allotment sites, located in Carrickfergus, Larne and Greenisland, whilst NIHE have developed growing spaces within some of their estates in Ballymena. The LDP will support community growing spaces and allotments in appropriate and accessible locations in accordancePolicy OSL6 Community Growing Spaces and Allotments and land identified for firm proposals will be protected in the Local Policies Plan within open space zonings.
Provision for Cemetery development
5.8.19Provision and maintenance of cemeteries is a statutory responsibility of the Council. According to the Council’s 2018 Cemetery Audit, there are approximately 8,000 plots remaining at present across the Borough, although in Larne and Carrickfergus there is only a 2 and a 10 year supply left respectively.
5.8.20Given that there is diminishing cemetery capacity with insufficient burial space over the Plan period, new cemeteries or extensions to existing cemeteries will be required. Any firm and appropriate proposals for new cemetery/burial space that emerge in the short term will be zoned and protected in the Local Policies Plan. Otherwise, proposals submitted in the longer term will be assessed against Policy OSL7 Cemeteries and Burial Space.