Parish pump wielded in planning framework debate

Country TDs told they have nothing to fear when it comes to future of rural housing

Rural housing has  been the cause of the vast majority of lobbying since the draft of Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework, was published in October.

Rural housing has been the cause of the vast majority of lobbying since the draft of Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework, was published in October.

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In Irish politics, when national plans come into conflict with the parish pump, there can only be one winner. And there are few issues that raise more ire locally than plans to restrict one-off rural housing or ribbon development.

Since the draft of Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework was published in October, the matter that has generated the vast majority of lobbying to its author, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, has been fears that it will clamp down on once-off housing in the countryside.

At present, there are 500,000 stand-alone rural houses in the State and planners, environmental organisations, and some political parties (the Green Party primarily) have all criticised this practice.

Their argument is that the continuing proliferation of such housing is not sustainable and lead to hugely increased costs connecting electricity, water, sewage, and broadband as well as creating extra work for health and emergency services because of their isolated settings.

Those arguments cut little water in rural Ireland and among TDs serving it, who expressed fears that the language in the framework was too strong. The framework makes it clear that the applicant has to show a “demonstrable economic need to live in a rural area.”

Intense lobbying

In the 10 days running up to today’s publication, there has been intense lobbying on this issue, and also on what rural parliamentarians and Ministers, considered a bias towards Dublin. As the Sligo TD Tony McLoughlin said yesterday there was a line above Dublin and Galway where very little would be provided.

That lobbying has borne fruit. Both Athlone and Sligo have been made regional capitals, and Drogheda has also had its status elevated. There have also been commitments given to the N5 and N4 roadways as well as the main road to Derry and Donegal. These moves are seen to ‘balance’ the commitments for mass transit to Dublin.

And what of once-off rural housing? Well, even if the language remains the same, Mr Murphy has already made clear to rural TDs that there is absolutely nothing in the framework that should give rise to concern.

Indeed in recent comments in the Seanad, he went to some lengths to say the plan would not result in any kind of restriction on rural housing.

“There is nothing to fear in this,” he said.

Replying to his Fine Gael colleague Senator Tim Lombard, he said he wanted to “quell any misplaced fears that may have been generated that the framework will present some sort of clamp-down on rural housing.”

Saying it was far from the truth, he added: “I would like to make it crystal clear that the National Planning Framework fully supports the concept of living in the countryside.

“Nothing in it suggests any sort of a policy shift from what local authorities are supposed to be doing at the moment in terms of implementing the Rural Housing Guidelines.”

So nothing changes. It seems the huge bout of lobbying by rural TDs and Senators was founded on a fear that never existed in the first instance.

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