Planning and housing density issues

Part of: Housing Association Guide, Development Guide, Design standards

Development plans

A Development Plan defines the policy framework and land use proposals that will be used to guide development decisions within a specified area.

Development plans will / may include provisions in relation to:

  • the main infrastructure requirements that developers will be expected to meet for zoned residential sites
  • the identification of local design requirements for specific residential sites
  • the identification of sites where local requirements for design and layout will need to be addressed by a development brief
  • the identification of any local neighbourhood facilities required as an integral part of the development of zoned housing sites and
  • specific policies for the control of housing development in established residential areas

Early engagement with PlanningNI

To help ensure that their proposals are broadly acceptable to PlanningNI associations should consider, at the earliest opportunity, the need to request a Pre-Application Discussion (PAD).  PlanningNI will expect the request to be accompanied by sufficient information to explain the development proposal, including existing plans or photographs and proposed sketch layouts.  PADs are mandatory for all proposed Advanced Land Purchases schemes (ALPs).

Associations must retain on file for audit purposes details of all engagements, and matters discussed, with PlanningNI, including any written responses provided by PlanningNI to matters discussed at a PAD meeting. Associations should prepare minutes of meetings held with PlanningNI and keep a record on file of sending these to PlanningNI for agreement.

Planning policy statements

Planning Policy Statements (PPS) contain policies on land-use and other planning matters and set out the main planning considerations that PlanningNI takes into account in assessing proposals for the various forms of development.  They are relevant to the preparation of development plans and are also material to decisions on individual planning appeals.

PPS 7 ‘Quality Residential Environments’ was published by DOE (NI) in June 2001 and aims to promote quality in the design of new residential development. The first Addendum to PPS 7 on ‘Residential Extensions and Alterations’ was issued in March 2008 and a second Addendum on ‘Safeguarding the Character of Established Residential Areas’ was issued in August 2010.  It should be noted that Policy LC1 and Annex ‘A’ to the second addendum endorses DSD space standards whilst Annex ‘D’ summarises other PPSs and Supplementary Planning Guidance of particular relevance to housing development.

The Supplementary Planning Guidance referred to above includes ‘Creating Places – Achieving Quality in Residential Developments’ (May 2000) and 'Living Places -An Urban Stewardship and Design Guide for Northern Ireland' (Sep 2014). 'Creating Places' is the principal guide for use by intending developers in the design of all new housing areas. The guide is structured around the process of design and addresses the following matters:

  • the analysis of a site and its context
  • strategies for the overall design character of a proposal
  • the main elements of good design and
  • detailed design requirements

" 'Living Places' aims to clearly establish the key principles behind good place making in terms of stewardship and design. The Guide lists ten qualities which are essential for successful places: Collaborative, Responsible, Hospitable, Crafted, Visionary, Contextual, Accessible, Vibrant and Diverse, Viable, and Enduring."

Housing densities

During all design stages of a project, from feasibility up until submission to DPG for project approval, the association should be satisfied that the density being achieved is the optimum density, given due consideration of all relevant factors.

It is also essential that the association is cognisant of the impact that density has on the value for money of its proposals in terms of the Total Cost Indicator (TCI). This is particularly important in high cost schemes and/or schemes over TCI, which are subject to additional scrutiny by DPG and, where appropriate, the Department. Therefore, to aid assessment a ‘Density Statement’ must be submitted at scheme approval stage for all schemes over £3.5m in grant and, when requested by DPG, for schemes over TCI. The submitted Density Statement should be concise, supported with maps and annotated drawings where possible and must include details of the steps taken to achieve the optimum density and the justification for the particular density achieved (e.g. concept, planning, housing need, sustainability (i.e social, environmental and/or economic), open space, etc.). The following key figures must be included:

a)  Gross site area
b)  Net developable area (see sample template for definition)
c)  Number of dwellings per hectare
d)  Number of bedspaces per hectare.

As a guide, a sample template for a basic density statement is included within the ‘scheme approval forms’ section of the Guide, however associations are encouraged to present the relevant information in their own format.


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