‘HOUSING IS A BIG ISSUE’ Mayo Fine Gael TD, Michael RIng.
MAYO TD Michael Ring has called for planning laws to be relaxed to make it easier to secure planning permission for housing.
Speaking to The Mayo News as part of our analysis of the Westport housing market (see pages 20-21), Deputy Ring said that planning laws were ‘blocking’ people from building on their own land.
The long-serving TD called for more sites to be made available for affordable housing and for the income threshold for social housing to be raised to €40,000.
“It makes me angry that we haven’t dealt with this,” he said. “We dealt with it in the times gone by. [We built housing estates] in Hillside, the one on the Newport Road, Kings Hill, they are all initiatives from the local authority that bought the land and provided the site. We haven’t done that in the last 20 years.”
Deputy Ring claimed that Mayo County Council ‘didn’t take on the responsibility’ of providing housing to its constituents.
From 2000 until 2010, the local authority built 957 houses. From 2010 to 2019, the council built 174, in addition to several houses that it directly purchased.
“The Government are blocking builders from doing what they want to do through the planning laws. We saw it recently in Carrabawn [just outside Westport town]. An Bord Pleanála rejected a housing scheme there. We have loads of land out on the Castlebar Road… it should be redeveloped, there should be sites made available,” he said.
“I am angry that people cannot live in the town they were born in. I have family members of my own that couldn’t buy houses [in Westport],” he revealed.
“Housing is a big issue, and I want young people to be living in the town, I want people to be able to come into the town and I want workers to come into the town. I do worry about certain people who don’t live in this town, who have never lived in this town, who are making decisions about this town.”
THE former Minister for Rural Affairs said that planning guidelines stipulating that a person have a connection to an area to build a one-off house were ‘totally illegal’.
In a recent submission to Mayo County Council’s draft County Development Plan, the Office of The Planning Regulator (OPR) said that allowing relatives of ‘non-farming persons’ and returning immigrants to build in rural areas was ‘not linked to economic or social need’.
The OPR said it had ‘serious concerns’ that the draft plan ‘fails to respond to the contemporary planning policy context for planning authorities set by Government, which is centred on supporting and strengthening the rural economy through the sustainable regeneration of rural towns and villages and by promoting consolidation and compact and sequential development in urban and rural settlements’.
It was revealed recently that An Bord Pleanála had refused more planning applications than it had approved in Mayo in the early months of 2022.
Deputy Ring said he knew of several people who were unable to get planning permission on their own sites, despite having ‘a connection’ with the area.
“There is no point pretending, they will put every obstacle in people’s way rather than helping them and try to resolve the problem,” he stated.
“Government need to wind them fellas back. It’s time that the powers were brought back to the elected representatives.
“The counsellors are the directors of the company, they should be demanding that there is more sites, and more land bought, and more sites made available for affordable housing – not for social housing, for affordable housing, to give people an opportunity.”
The Fine Gael TD added that he knew ‘at least seven people’ who are unable to start building houses due the rise in the cost of building materials.
“You can quote me on this, I know a number of people who have come in to me that have got planning, that have got mortgages and they cannot build the house because they’re afraid of the costs,” he said.
MAYO Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway Walsh accused the Government of failing to provide enough social and affordable housing.
Responding to a question from The Mayo News on the issue of Airbnb accommodation, Deputy Conway Walsh called for tighter regulations on short-term letting.
“It is clear that stricter planning and enforcement is needed in areas designated as Rent Pressure Zones,” she stated, adding: “All local authorities need to have oversight in order to ensure that short-term lets are not pushing local people out of towns where there is high housing demand.”