Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has withdrawn controversial guidance on granting planning permission for dwelling houses in rural areas.

The Planning Advice Note (PAN) came into effect on 2 August 2021, but it was heavily criticised by local politicians, rural architects, and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

The Department for Infrastructure maintain the PAN did not change existing planning rules, although critics of the guidance point out that it led to significant changes in how the rules could be applied by planners in local councils.

“It would have removed the ability of councils to make objective, balanced decisions and the process would have become almost a tick box exercise,” said Johann Muldoon, managing director of Manor Architects.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, the Moneymore-based architect said the PAN would have had a “devastating impact” on the number of sites that could be passed in rural areas of NI.

According to Muldoon, the PAN required sites to meet all criteria set by the department and this would have led to most planning applications being refused.

“In our experience, no application has ever satisfied all the criteria which is why these decisions must be based on balanced, tested and case-by-case assessment,” Muldoon said.

UFU deputy president David Brown said the union were pleased that the PAN had been withdrawn and he called for a “logical and sustainable” approach to rural planning going forward.

He pointed out that banks are reluctant to grant mortgages for new builds if the site is in a location (such as beside a farmyard) which would make it difficult to sell the house in a forced sale.

On enquiry, a spokesperson from the Department for Infrastructure said officials will “take stock of the concerns raised” about rural planning.

“The department will continue its regular engagement with councils and other stakeholders to understand how planning policy for the countryside is working and if and how it could be improved,” the spokesperson said.