A recommendation that new rural housing should be directed towards “rural towns and villages” could make “vast swathes of rural Ireland no-go areas for people who grew up there”, an Independent TD has warned today (Monday, September 11).

The recommendation is one of 13 put forward by the government’s expert group for the First Revision of the National Planning Framework (NPF).

It highlighted that when it comes to the development of rural areas, the NPF aspires to make it “attractive for people to live in towns and villages”.

But in the report the expert group also warned that “the continued pattern of scattered individual dwellings across the countryside remains a challenging sustainable development issue for rural areas”.

The expert panel included Laura Burke, director general of the Environmental Protection Agency; Brendan O’Sullivan, director of University College Cork centre for planning education and research; and Frances Ruane, chair of the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council.

They stated in their report that “since the 1970s, a significant majority of new homes continue to be located outside serviced rural settlements”.

“This case by case laissez-faire approach is problematic on many levels, including the lack of measurable indicators of progress, the inequity around how some individuals can get planning permission by demonstrating a local need or local connection while some individuals cannot.

“While this is politically difficult, failure to address the issue directly in the NPF appears to be inconsistent with the high level goals of this framework,” they outlined.

They have now recommended that: “The  revision of the NPF should consider the inherent unsustainability of scattered, uncoordinated patterns of new houses in the countryside and explore how to develop a new national strategic objective to direct new rural housing towards rural towns and villages and to restrict new urban generated rural housing elsewhere.”

But Independent TD for Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan has strongly criticised this recommendation and said any decision by the government to endorse a new planning and regulatory regime would effectively make vast swathes of rural Ireland ‘no-go areas’ even for people who grew up or who work in these localities.

She believes this could spark the ‘the mother of all political battles” from rural representatives.

“These recommendations are a political non-starter that will generate genuine fury and upset in rural communities if they are pushed through and adopted.

“It is almost inconceivable how distanced this government and its expert groups have become from what ordinary people actually want and how they want they live.”

The Independent TD for Laois-Offaly said that not only had farmers fresh concerns because of the recent EU nitrates decision, but many were finding it difficult to survive economically and “now their children and grandchildren cannot live near them”.

“What is deeply irritating is that the report itself explicitly accepts that fundamental importance of place for people and communities in Ireland. But then in the next breath it makes establishing such a connection virtually impossible.

“This report will be fiercely resisted,” she warned.