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The Rural Idyll

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
James Francis
Queen's University Belfast | UK
Northern Ireland’s rural built heritage is considered to be of significant importance to the Province. As a result a number of initiatives have been undertaken in recent years to preserve this heritage including the listing of many buildings. However there are still many heritage structures that have not been listed and how this type of housing is developed is a contentious issue and frequently at the forefront of the planning debate across the Province. This study sought to examine the re-use of the non-listed vernacular buildings across the Province for use as dwelling houses. The dissertation aimed to build upon established research on the conservation of Northern Irish vernacular heritage by focusing upon rural areas and in particular the inland counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh. The aim was to discover how past and present planning policies facilitated the re-use of non-listed vernacular buildings in these rural areas.

The Built Heritage of rural Northern Ireland is under threat due to agricultural change, negative perceptions, planning and funding policies, as well as an absence of statutory protection. In recent years, Planning Policy Statements (PPS) in particular PPS14 have put many buildings across Northern Ireland at risk of replacement as opposed to renovation or conservation. Whilst some measures have been introduced to rectify this it remains to be seen whether the replacement of PPS14 with the new PPS21 policy being proposed, will have a positive effect on the re-use of non-listed buildings.

An examination of the treatment of vernacular buildings in counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh indicated a correlation between these planning policies and the re-use of buildings. Semi structured-interviews with professionals from an architectural and planning background who work in these counties led to similar conclusions. Consequently a series of recommendations, suggesting future research and ways of increasing the uptake of the reuse of vernacular buildings as dwelling are proposed, including: altering public perception; training and educating; reassigning grant aid; removing financial deterrents; and simplifying the planning process.

James Francis

The dissertation ‘Rural Idyll’ was nominated because it was considered to be the preeminent dissertation produced by any students enrolled on the BArch programme this academic year. The dissertation was awarded the highest grade because the student dealt with the complex and often considered ‘dry’ subject area of planning policy in an interesting and stimulating manner. The thesis topic, investigating the effect of rural planning policies on the re-use of non-listed vernacular buildings in the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh in the Province of Northern Ireland, is contentious because over the years the Province has lost a considerable amount of its rural built heritage, as vernacular architecture has been replaced rather than renovated and reused as dwellings.
The student’s literature review studied the situation in Great Britain, where restrictive planning policies have meant that development is channelled towards re-use of old buildings, and asked why the same approach wasn’t being adopted in the Province of Northern Ireland.
The research strategy adopted by the student included an examination of the recent/current treatment of vernacular buildings in the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh as well as a series of semi-structured interviews with architects and planners working in these counties to establish whether clients are discouraged from reusing existing buildings under the current planning strategies adopted within the Province.
The results of the questionnaires and case studies examined were used to develop recommendations, suggesting ways of increasing the uptake of the reuse of vernacular buildings as dwelling.

Dr Carolyn Hayles
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