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Friends of the Earth has welcomed Government proposals to restrict the number of new houses in the Northern Ireland countryside. The environmental pressure group was speaking ahead of the publication of a draft planning policy which is expected will limit the spread of 'bungalow blight' across the region.

Friends of the Earth set out its 4-point case for clamping down on unfettered development in the countryside:

1. Landscape quality

Housing eats up valuable countryside, undermining landscape quality and tourism potential. It has been reported that Bord Failté (the Irish tourist board) has used ten-year old photographs of Donegal in its promotional literature since unfettered development has undermined the county's landscape quality and tourist appeal.

Every year, three times as many one-off houses are built in the Northern Ireland countryside as in England, Scotland and Wales put together. Indeed, single dwellings now account for half of all new houses built.

Dispersed rural settlements are not traditional in Ireland, instead rural houses were built in small clusters.

2. Septic tank pollution

Rural dwellings tend not to be on a mains sewer and rely instead on septic tanks, many of which are poorly sited and badly maintained. Sewage pollution leaks into rivers, streams and sheughs, as well as into ground water. Northern Ireland's environmental regulator, Environment and Heritage Service, acknowledges that septic tank pollution is poorly regulated.

3. Car dependency

Low-density settlement patterns undermine the viability of public transport services and increase reliance on the private car. In short, unsustainable housing patterns lead to unsustainable transport patterns.

4. Climate change

Related to car dependency is the question of climate change. Most rural dwellers do not work in the countryside and instead travel long distances by car to work in Belfast and other urban centres.

Friends of the Earth Campaigner Lisa Fagan warned that the draft policy would face tough opposition during the consultation period, particularly from farmers intent on selling sites for building:

"There will undoubtedly be an outcry from some sections of the farming community in response to today's announcement but Government must stand up for the public interest. Current settlement patterns are blighting Northern Ireland's landscape and environment, and that must not be allowed to continue".

For further information, please contact Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland on 028 9023 3488.


Published by Friends of the Earth Trust