PROBLEM NOT GOING AWAY Recent decisions to deny young couples planning permission for houses in rural areas has again brought into focus a real problem thwarting progress in rural Mayo areas. Pic: istock
Changing the county development plan to favour rural housing will not be an easy task
In March of this year, Paul Langan received a letter in the post from An Bord Pleanála informing him of their decision regarding a planning application to build a house near his family home in Knockrooskey outside Westport.
The 36-year-old truck driver had been waiting the guts of six months for the planning authority to make a decision on the application which had been approved the previous August by Mayo County Council.
The application had been appealed to An Bord Pleanála by a neighbour who had raised concerns over aspects of the design. When Paul opened the letter he was relieved to find these concerns were rejected by the board but he was shocked to see he was still denied planning. The reason being that as the house was in a rural location, he did not prove he had a housing need.
“My first reaction to the decision was how dare they suggest where I have a need to live. I have a family site and I want to live near my family, so how dare they,” he told The Mayo News.
“It is where I went to school, it is where my family and friends are and they said I did not have a need to live there.
“I know there should be restrictions but I am local to the area. It would be different if I was from Dublin looking to build a big house but I am a local man trying to build a home in my home area and start my family.”
Paul’s story is one which could be told by dozens more people who have been refused planning permission because they could not prove they have a housing need to build in a rural area. A recent edition of the RTÉ radio show Liveline heard from young people in similar circumstances to Paul who have been denied planning permission.
The main reason being is that national policy requires that anyone building one-off housing in rural areas must show a housing need to do so. But it is not the only reason, in some instances the proximity of the site to a special area of conservation can be a reason for refusing as is its location in relation to national roads.
Just last month, The Mayo News ran a story of Micheál Barrett from Crossmolina who was also denied planning permission by An Bord Pleanála to build a house close to his family home. In that case it was Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) who lodged the appeal as the access road was leading onto the N59 eventhough the road was already in use.
With the Mayo County Development Plan under review, councillors have made the issue of rural planning one of the main aspects they want changed in the new plan.
Crossmolina-based councillor Michael Loftus explained that if rural Ireland is to survive, the new development plan has to take into account the need for rural housing.
“The development plan is used as the yardstick for any planning applications. When an individual goes forward to build a house, if their house design and size is not in accordance with what the development plan says they will be turned down. It is really the bible according to planning.
“One of my bugbears is the lack of planning allowed along the N59. It is killing the area. I suggested at one stage that we would prefer if the N59 was taken as the national route because it has had a major bearing on the Crossmolina to Bellacorick road. People in the area who cannot get permission to build houses along that section of road.
“There has to be some give from the TII for family members who come to live in the area where their family home is. There has to be more leniency when it comes to coming out onto the national road that TII seem to be stop all development. I have a big problem about that and I want a stipulation in the new County Development Plan where family members would get priority.”
While councillors are determined the new development plan will be more sympathetic to rural planning, the plan can still be scuppered by officials in the Department of Planning who may not agree.
A Mayo-based planner who did not wish to be named told The Mayo News that while the development plan is important, it is still secondary to national guidelines set down by the government department.
“National planning policies take precedent. The development plan does what it does but to a large extent the conversation is over regarding rural housing policy because it is set in stone on national policy. Every now and then you will hear TDs on about it but until the department make moves to change the planning guidelines, every planning development will have to row in behind whats in the higher level plans,” he said.
While Mayo County Council’s planning department comes in for criticism for denying planning permission for some rural houses, the planner said by and large they are sympathetic to rural developments. However he added if they are appealed to An Bord Pleanála they are likely to be denied.
“The council hands are tied, however hard it is to get planning from the council it is 20 times harder to get planning from An Bord Pleanala. The board really don’t like one-off housing,” he said.
Many councillors have commented that however they amend the county development plan to make it favourable for rural housing, the minister of the day will put a roadblock in their way and use his or her power to veto it.
Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Ryan told a recent meeting of Mayo County Council that if this happens the council must be united to face down the Minister.
“Be under no illusion, yes Ministers orders can dictate but I am not afraid of Ministers orders. We were at Oireachtas meetings before when we had John Gormley [former Green Party Minister] staring us down and we dealt with him on that occasion and we’ll deal with ministers if we have to. We are well able to deliver our development plan.
“If anything has gone wrong here it is bureaucracy at national level superimposed on us. National Planning Framework, regional planning guidelines and then put your county development plan under that straitjacket. That is where it has gone horribly wrong and it is where the Oireachtas needs to step up and listen to their councillors on the ground,” he said.
There are proposals at Oireachtas level regarding changes to rural housing guidelines but it remains to be seen if they will have a significant affect on counties like Mayo.
For now, people like Paul Langan will have to deal with the stresses of trying to get planning applications over the line and getting on with their life. He has recently submitted a third application and hopes this one will be third time lucky.