A genuine economic or social need will have to be established to justify new rural housing in a significant portion of Kerry, according to a draft plan.

The Draft Kerry County Development Plan 2022-2028 stated that these areas would be under varying levels of “urban influence”.

The proposed plan said that agriculture is the predominant land use in Kerry; there are approximately 226,000ha of farmland in the county.

However, Census 2016 showed that just 8% of the Kerry population is employed across the farming, fishing and forestry sectors.

The draft plan said the promotion of farm diversification and new employment opportunities within the agriculture sector are necessary to sustain rural communities and ensure viability of services.

It noted that the sustainable use of forestry and resources, i.e. sand and gravel pits, must be carefully considered for both balanced growth and environmental protection.

The draft plan stated that the specific land use requirements of agricultural activity will be accommodated as “a first priority“.

Low carbon society

The document pointed to the need for a “transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society” and a focus on supporting vibrant rural communities, “centred on a network of rural village settlements”.

It stated rural communities, particularly farmers, operate as custodians of the landscape.

The draft noted that the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2019 showed 52.5% of farm families nationally now depend on off-farm employment, much of which is focused on urban settlements.

Although there has been population decline in some villages in the county, the plan said there is evidence of a strong enterprise culture, social vibrancy and resilience in rural communities.

The rollout of the National Broadband Plan is flagged as a major opportunity for rural businesses to offer new services and reach more markets.

Rural housing

Census 2016 showed that 54.6% of the Kerry population lives in a rural area; nationally, that figure is 30%.

Source: Kerry County Council

Kerry County Council said it will be ensuring that future housing applications in the catchments of towns and villages and the wider rural areas around them, comply with national policy by:

  • Establishing a genuine economic or social need for permanent occupation;
  • Prioritising the reduction of vacancy rates in rural areas over new residential development;
  • The renovation or modification of existing structures in rural areas for residential use;
  • Encouraging people who wish to reside in the countryside to live in existing villages or small village settlements where there are services available.

The draft plan states that applicants in rural areas, under an urban influence, will have to satisfy council planners that their proposal demonstrates a need based on their social and/or economic links to a particular local rural area:

  • Farmers, including their sons and daughters or a favoured niece/nephew where a farmer has no family of their own, who wish to build a first home for their permanent occupation on the family farm;
  • Persons taking over the ownership and running of a farm on a full-time basis, who wish to build a first home on the farm for their permanent occupation, where no existing dwelling is available for their own use. The proposed dwelling must be associated with the working and active management of the farm;
  • Other persons working full-time in farming or the marine sector for a period of over seven years, in the local rural area where they work and in which they propose to build a first home for their permanent occupation;
  • Landowners, including their sons and daughters, who wish to build a first home for their permanent occupation on the landholding associated with their principal family residence for a minimum of ten years prior to the date of the planning application;
  • Persons who have spent a substantial period of their lives (over seven years), living in the local rural area in which they propose to build a first home for their permanent occupation.

In other rural areas, it is proposed that Kerry County Council policy would accommodate demand for permanent residential development as it arises, “subject to good sustainable planning practice”.

Preference in these locations would be given to the renovation or restoration of existing dwellings before consideration is given to the building of a new house.

Holiday homes

The draft plan said that Census 2016 showed the level of holiday homes in some areas of Kerry far exceeds the local indigenous population.

It said this sporadic one-off development results in “an incremental deterioration of the visual and in some cases, the ecological qualities of the landscape”.

Source: Kerry County Council

In the future, the council is proposing that one-off holiday or second homes will not be permitted in rural areas, but instead will be concentrated in existing settlements, in order to minimise the impact on the open landscape.

The public can make submissions on the Draft Kerry County Development Plan 2022-2028 until Wednesday, February, 23, 2022.

Kerry county councillors are expected to consider submissions and vote on the plan next April.