Will new planning laws see an end to one-off housing in rural Ireland?

New planning laws that will be implemented through county development plans over the next 12 to 18 months could see an end to one-off housing in Ireland’s countryside.

The new rules – which come on foot of the ‘Project Ireland 2040: National Planning Framework’ – will encourage more focused settlements in this country where ‘cluster living’ around towns and villages will emerge.

The framework states that rural communities are facing challenges now ranging from urban generated pressures and declining and ageing populations in some locations, to the structure of the economy and lack of access to quality infrastructure and new technologies in others.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO), meanwhile, defines ‘rural’ as the areas outside settlements with a population of 1,500 or more people.

It points out that this includes smaller settlements of fewer than 1,500 people which is home to around 20% of the population of rural areas and 30% of individual dwellings in the countryside.

Together they comprised approximately 37% of the population in 2016.

“This reflects Ireland’s historic rural and village settlement pattern,” the CSO added.

Plan of action

So, in response to all of this, the Action Plan for Rural Development – under the framework – was established.

It sets out the Government’s approach for growth and adaption in rural Ireland “through supportive measures that will encourage innovation and build on the existing strengths of rural communities in Ireland”.

Rural communities, and particularly those engaged in farming, operate as custodians of the landscape by undertaking agricultural land management at varying scales.

The framework continues: “However, the viability of many landholdings is such that around half of farm families now depend on off-farm employment which is focused on urban settlements.

“Alternative land uses such as forestry and renewable energy related development are also becoming more prevalent.”

‘Sustainable living’

Meanwhile, the document not only seeks to protect areas that are under strong urban influence from unsustainable over-development, but is also focused on encouraging ‘sustainable population’ in more structurally weak areas – areas that have experienced low growth or decline in recent decades.

“In rural Ireland many people seek the opportunity to build their own homes but find it difficult to do so in smaller settlements because of a lack of available sites and services,” the framework continued.

In order to assist with this, local authorities will be supported in undertaking the necessary land acquisition, site preparation and local infrastructure provision to deliver self-build development options in smaller towns and villages.

“In all types of rural settlement rural town living requires a proportionate and tailored approach to residential development.

“This means that it is necessary to tailor the scale, design and layout of housing in rural towns to ensure that a suburban or high-density urban approach is not applied to a rural setting and that development responds to the character, scale and density of the town.”

The framework also points out that the implementation of the plan will occur “at local level”.

“At a local level, the core strategy of county development plans will account for the demand for single housing in the countryside,” the document added.

“This will be related to the local authority’s overall Housing Need Demand Assessment (HNDA) that will be required to be undertaken in future planning.

“Quantifying the need for single housing on an evidence basis will assist in supporting the preparation of a comprehensive housing strategy and associated land use policies.”