Areas of Significant Archaeological Interest

The designation of a landscape as an Area of Significant Archaeological Interest (ASAI) through a Local Development Plan (LDP), recognises that these areas are of Regional Importance in Northern Ireland, due to their distinctive historic landscape character and landscape-scale heritage value. An ASAI designation affords these landscapes policy protections in decision making on development and land-use change proposals which may affect the distinctive characteristics of the area.

The policy context

At this time Northern Ireland has eleven ASAIs designated through historic Area Plans, and also through two of the adopted Local Development Plan Strategies.  Two of these designations straddle district boundaries, demonstrating how the ancient characteristics of a landscape are not restricted  to modern administrative confines. Originally ASAIs were designated in line with policy provisions in A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland (Policy Con 6), and subsequently from 1999, in line with provisions in Planning Policy Statement 6 (para 2.6).

Now the rationale for the protection and designation of ASAIs is framed in the provisions of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland 2015 para 6.29;

“Where appropriate, LDPs should designate ASAI. Such designations seek to identify particularly distinctive areas of the historic landscape in Northern Ireland. They are likely to include a number of individual and related sites and monuments and may also be distinguished by their landscape character and topography. Local policies or proposals for the protection of the overall character and integrity of these distinctive areas should be included in LDPs were relevant. [1]”  This aligns with the guidance published in the Regional Development Strategy 2035 RG11, para 3.30 bullets 1 and 3.

Local Councils across Northern Ireland are presently in the process of creating local development plans for their district. Through these plans further new ASAIs can be designated and local bespoke policies created for their protection. HED’s role is to carry out work to assess candidates and in line with policy requirements, to consult the Historic Monuments Council (HMC) on their identification, before submitting character statements on each which can be used as part of the evidence base for plan-making.

Methodology in approach

In considering a landscape for identification as an ASAI, HED carry out desk-based research, fieldwork and assessment. We look to a range of evidence that can include, but which are not limited to, some or all of the following:

  • Historic Environment Records held within HERoNI
  • historic Maps
  • orthophotographic imagery, drone and terrestrial photography
  • historic documentation and published sources
  • LiDAR surveys,
  • existing landscape character assessments
  • field inspection and observation in the landscape, considering views, approaches, and interactions with the surrounding historic and natural environment
  • GIS analysis, including where appropriate the use of analytics including viewshed analysis
  • placenames and traditional or cultural associations
  • published guidance – Guidance on Setting.

The above list is not exhaustive and the range of evidence considered is most often dependent on the unique qualities of each individual landscape, for example skyline views may be an important quality in one landscape, while surviving historic characteristics and demonstrative time depth tracing evolution of place and function may be critical in another.

In identifying an ASAI the definition of a boundary is an important part of the process.  This can be challenging as landscapes by their nature are continuous entities, but in approaching it HED consider unique qualities of each individual landscape and where possible use surviving historic characteristics in defining the area.  Different elements of the individual landscape may be considered including natural characteristics, such as streams, valleys and ridge lines, and human made characteristics such as heritage assets, historic boundaries, routeways and roads. Viewshed from some assets and parts of an area may also in some instances be a consideration in informing boundaries, but the distinctive historic character the experiential characteristics of the landscape contained is paramount. 

Example considerations in boundary definition

Natural features

  • streams/rivers
  • valleys
  • ridges
  • contour lines
  • shorelines

Human made features

  • townland and parish boundaries
  • historic roads and routeways
  • field boundaries
  • later boundaries and more modern roads and settlement edges

Consultation with Historic Monuments Council

In consulting the HMC, HED provide proposal papers for each ASAI, and visit examples with members of the Council, allowing an opportunity for them to view and discuss the landscapes on the ground. Following consultation with the HMC, and where they are in agreement with the identified designation, HED provide a statement on the characteristics of the ASAI, alongside relevant imagery and current records we hold on heritage assets within the landscape to the local authority[1], as well as the dates of consultation with HMC. It is important to note that HERoNI is a constantly evolving resource, and that new sites or designations may continually be identified within ASAI landscapes as new information comes to light – indeed the initial designation might recognise a wealth of features within an area which have not yet been recorded in detail. Review of this evidence/new knowledge may lead to future modifications where these are appropriate to better recognise the distinctive historic character of the area.

Considerations in policy development [2]

Each ASAI has its own unique values, characteristics and attributes. Vulnerabilities and threats may vary between different landscapes. Consequently, when local planning authorities are developing bespoke planning policy as per the requirements of SPPS 6.29 consideration should be afforded to the types of change that could adversely affect the historic integrity or qualities of each individual landscape and the contribution that these make to the enjoyment and appreciation of the historic monuments and heritage assets that lie therein. They may also wish to have reference to other relevant local development plan evidence bases such as landscape character reviews and development pressure analysis.

The identification of an ASAI aims to more fully capture the significance and historic evolution of each specific landscape, toward better articulating its contribution to the understanding and appreciation of the heritage assets within it, so that decisions on changes that affect the historic environment are better informed. In developing local policies for ASAIs, Councils should understand existing development pressures on landscape characteristics, for example, through analysis of existing planning consent histories in an area.

Designated ASAI in Northern Ireland as of 31 October 2023

Areas of Significant Archaeological Interest Plan(s) through which ASAI designated
The Giants Ring Lagan Valley Regional Park Plan 2005
Knockdhu Larne Area Plan 2010 & extended through Mid and East Antrim Local Development Plan Strategy 2030
Beaghmore Cookstown Area Plan 2010 & extended  through Fermanagh and Omagh Local Development Plan Strategy 2030
Creggandevesky Fermanagh and Omagh Local Development Plan Strategy 2030
Dunluce Northern Area Plan 2016
Dundrum Ards and Down area Plan 2015
Downpatrick Ards and Down area Plan 2015
Mountdrum Fermanagh Area Plan 2007 & rearticulated in Fermanagh and Omagh Development Plan Strategy 2030
Devenish Fermanagh Area Plan 2007 & rearticulated in Fermanagh and Omagh Development Plan Strategy 2030
Navan Armagh Area Plan 2004
The Dorsey Banbridge, Newry and Mourne Area Plan 2015

[1] The accompanying footnote to this text in SPPS articulates the requirement for the Historic Monuments Council , a statutory advisory body to DfC, to be consulted on the identification of ASAIs.

[2] The examples given do not constitute an exhaustive list.

[3] ASAI are published in the first instance by Local Authorities during the Local Development Plan process.



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