Question Time - Environment Tuesday 3 June 2014

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan answered questions on matters including shadow district councils, new driver licensing laws and quality beaches.

Mr Ó hOisín and Mr Wilson both asked the Minister how his Department plans to provide non-farming rural dwellers with greater opportunities to build a house in the countryside.

The Minister stated " Planning Policy Statement 21 is the main planning policy for development in the countryside. In drafting PPS 21, officials sought to ensure that its policies provided sufficient opportunities for all sections of the rural community, not just those from a farming background. Therefore, although PPS 21 does not include a policy specifically for non-farming rural dwellers, almost all of its provisions provide opportunities for them. 

Policies open to non-farming rural dwellers include the conversion and reuse of non-residential buildings as dwellings; replacement dwellings; new dwellings within an existing cluster or ribbon of buildings; social and affordable housing schemes; development within designated dispersed rural communities; and a dwelling to meet compelling personal or domestic circumstances. Furthermore, any farm dwelling approved under policy CTY 10 may be occupied by non-farmers and sold off without restriction. I believe that, taken together, these policy provisions already provide significant opportunities for people from a non-farming background to continue to live in the countryside.

The issue of non-farming rural dwellers was also addressed through my predecessor's review of the operation of PPS 21. As part of his review, he met former members of the independent working group on non-farming rural dwellers. The group was established by Minister Wilson to explore options for non-farming rural dwellers as part of the draft PPS 21. The previous members reiterated their advice that planning policy should not create a special category for the non-farming rural dweller and that planning decisions for single houses should not be determined on the basis of kinship, connection or occupation. The Minister's review concluded that PPS 21 was operating effectively and that the need for a fundamental review did not arise at that time.

The minister had to answer questions on Full Circle Power Ltd - Domestic Waste, ASSI Designation and Racist Attacks during the 15 minute period of topical questions.

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