Rural areas have ‘too many’ one-off houses

March 3, 2010

TOO MANY one-off houses are still being built in rural Ireland despite a direction given five years ago to local authorities to restrict permission for their construction, the Irish Planning Institute has said.

There had been “no decline” in the numbers of one-off houses since the sustainable rural guidelines were introduced in 2005, institute president Gerry Sheeran said.

“In 2009, there were 12,000 individual houses completed and only 9,000 houses constructed within residential developments.”

Since 1971, the number of one-off houses has increased from 156,000 to 450,000, he said.

The proliferation of one-off housing was undermining rural towns by “siphoning” residential development from them, he said.

Their construction was damaging the environment, polluting groundwater and increasing C02 emissions by increasing car usage.

They also contributed to creating a social imbalance where poorer people stayed in the towns while the wealthy built large houses in the countryside.

The guidelines for local authorities must be reviewed to provide “clear, consistent and unambiguous” direction on the exceptional cases where one-off housing should be allowed, he said.

Mr Sheeran was speaking at the institute’s National Planning Awards 2010, where the top award went to a Dublin City Council plan developed more than two years ago.

It said it had far fewer entries this year because of the planning and development slowdown, and made fewer awards.

The top award for planning achievement went to the city council’s Phibsborough/Mountjoy Local Area Plan, which was drafted in 2007 and approved by the city council in 2008, but has yet to result in any development or regeneration of the area.

The plan aims to provide a structure for the redevelopment of key sites, including Mountjoy Prison, the Mater hospital, Dalymount Park, the former Shandon Bakery site at Cross Guns Bridge and the former Smurfit printworks on Botanic Road. The plan envisages the development of two new primary schools and a new secondary school in the area and possibly a hotel on the Mountjoy site, if and when the prison closes.

The focal point of the plan was the unsightly Phibsborough shopping centre, which was to be redeveloped in conjunction with the Dalymount football grounds.

However, the collapse of the deal with developer Liam Carroll to move football club Bohemians to a new stadium at Harristown near Dublin airport has left the future of the site uncertain.

Other projects that received awards were two planning strategies: Omagh, Towards A City Vision for 2025, and Loughmacask Local Area Plan 2008-2014.

There were two regeneration projects – Visual Centre for Contemporary Art and the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, Carlow, and Public Realm Plan for Birr, Co Offaly.

A conservation award was given for the refurbishment and extension of the former Presentation Convent as a medical centre in Waterford city, while the participation award went to the Dolphin House regeneration in Dublin

Olivia Kelly, Irish Times, 13 February 2010


Why do I need a planning consultant?

November 27, 2009

In my experience most people tend to employ a planning consultant when they have run into difficulties with an application for a rural dwelling; either a detailed request for further information from a Planning Authority or more common again, when they have been refused permission and need to appeal.  Whilst this is understandable I cannot emphasise enough the benefit of employing a planning consultant from the start of the planning application process.  In fact I would argue that a planning consultant is the very first person to approach, long before you get involved in design, trail hole tests etc. By approaching a planning consultant at the outset the potential applicant can establish whether it is worth proceeding with an application or not.

The modest expense that is involved in having a planning consultant review your likelihood of getting planning could very well save thousands on fees involved in the design stage if the conclusion is that permission is unlikely.  On the other hand if the consultant considers that you qualify in principle for a rural dwelling, he/she can prepare a report which will support the application.

A typical planning report will focus on the various policies within the Development Plan and endeavour to demonstrate to the Planning Authority how the applicant and their proposed development comply with each of the policies involved. Traditionally planning applications for rural dwellings simply included what was required under law i.e. location maps, drawings, site suitability report etc.  However, it is critical to understand that the assessment by local authority planners focus on the planning policies in the Development Plan.  It therefore makes sense to make a case to the Planning Authority to show how you comply with each of the policies.

Think of it like a court case, if nobody is representing your views to the Judge then you are seriously undermining your chances of being successful.  If you make a solid case then the Judge (Planning Authority) is going to give you a fair hearing and you are more likely to be successful.

Exceptional Health Circumstances

November 27, 2009

The Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines (2005,) state that when Planning Authorities area making assessments regarding applications for single rural dwellings they must be “sensitive in the treatment of applicants”.  In particular “planning authorities should recognise that exceptional health circumstances – supported by relevant documentation from a registered medical practitioner and a disability organisation – may require a person to live in a particular environment or close to family support. In such cases, and in the absence of any strong environmental, access or traffic reasons for refusal, a planning authority should consider granting permission, subject (where appropriate) to conditions regarding occupancy” (s.4.3).

Please be advised that Planning Authorities will insist on the need to provide documentary evidence to support any such application; it is not enough simply to state that the applicant has a health condition that nessecitates living in a particular rural area.  This evidence should be presented with the initial application so as to avoid further information requests which hold up the application process.

Rural Dwellings & Environmental Heritage Designations

November 19, 2009

There are a large number of encironmental and heritage designations which can apply in relation to an application for a single rural dwelling.  For example Special Area of Conservation, Natural Heritage Area, Special Protection Area, Statutory Nature Reserves etc.

It is imperative that any such designation is known about before applying for planning permission as this gives the applicant an opportunity to address any issues which might arise in relation to a specific designation.  Just because a proposed dwelling is located in a designated area does not mean that this automatically precludes a successful planning permission.  The Introduction to the Sustaianble Rural Housing Guidelines, 2005 makes this clear:

“The Guidelines make it clear that statutory designation of certain rural areas [i.e. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and National Heritage Areas (NHAs)] is not intended in any way to operate as an inflexible obstacle as such to housing development. In considering development proposals, including the attachment of planning conditions, in such areas, planning authorities should only consider approving
proposals they are satisfied will not adversely affect the integrity of the designated area” (pg. 2

The onus is on the applicant to demonstrate that the proposed development will not affect the integrity of the designated area.  This can only be undertaken if the applicant or his/her agent is fully aware of the designation and what it entails.  You have to take the time to get informed.  Too many applications are simply lodged without any effort made to put a case to the Planning Authority.  A fact based case will be considered by the Planner assessing the application.

Please find a link below to a detailed list of all environmental and heritage designations which exist in Ireland including international designations (source Development Plan Guidelines, 2007, Appendix B, DoEHLG):

Irish and international environmental and heritage designations

Rural Dwelling Design Guides

November 19, 2009

At this stage most planning authorities  in Ireland have their own dedicated rural dwelling design guide.  These guides provide the applicant with information on what is required in terms of the design of rural dwellings and their siting within the landscape. It is always advisable to consult the guide for a particular county before lodging an application for a rural dwelling.  Moreover, it is vital that the application clearly demonstrates how the proposed development accords with the relevant design guide as this is what the planners will be assessing.

Cork Rural Design Guide

The design guide which is most often referred to is the ‘Cork Rural Design Guide: building a new house in the countryside’ (2004) , probably because of the fact that it was one of the earliest rural dwelling design guides published and influenced many of the subsequent guides.

A link to the Cork Rural Design Guide is provided below:

Cork Rural Design Guide



A good article summarising the main points in the Cork  Rural Design Guide appeared in the Farmer Journal – see link below

Cork Rural Design Guide – Farmer’s Journal, 2004

The Cork Rural Design Guide covers:

Site selection: reading the landscape, seeking shelter and integration, assessing a site’s potential, linking with the land

Site layout: twenty things to consider, orientation, mapping the sunpath, searching for the best site options, dealing with contours, running with the slope, rural gardens, creating boundaries, trees and shrubs found in Cork, making an entrance

Appropriate house Design:contemporary rural design, signature characteristics of a Cork rural house, proportion, height, scale and form

Good construction: roofs, chimneys, windows, dormers, doors, porches, conservatories / sunspaces, external finishes, stone, colour

A worked example: bringing it together, preplanning, sketch design, legal notices, planning drawings

440,000 must buy spetic tank licence – Gormley

November 17, 2009

MORE than 400,000 homeowners will be forced to buy a licence for their septic tank under new laws planned for next year.

Yesterday, Environment Minister John Gormley said he would introduce a licensing and inspection system for septic tanks, which will affect 440,000 homes across the country, mostly in rural areas.

The department has not yet decided how much a licence will cost, but in Scotland similar licences cost €82.

And some homeowners could be forced to replace their tanks if the licensing authority decides they are not working properly and pose a risk to public health.

Sources said that tanks located on waterlogged sites or with clay soil may have to be replaced at a cost of up to €4,000 per tank.

The move, which is a commitment in the Renewed Programme for Government, comes after the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that Ireland had broken EU law for failing to enact legislation to deal with domestic wastewater from septic tanks and other treatment systems.


Homeowners currently have a “duty of care” but, under a new licensing system, a public body — such as a local authority — will inspect tanks to ensure they are not causing pollution.

Fines of up to €5,000 or three months’ imprisonment can currently be imposed for not ensuring the wastewater is properly treated. Penalties are likely to be of a similar order under the new system.

Households not served by public sewers usually depend on septic tank systems to treat and dispose of wastewater.

A typical tank takes wastewater from a toilet, bath, kitchen and washing machine.

Heavy solids settle to the bottom where bacteria partially decompose them into sludge, and tanks are pumped to prevent overflowing.

Excess wastewater is filtered through the soil where it is absorbed. If tanks overflow or are not maintained, they can cause contamination of groundwater, rivers and streams with potentially dangerous bugs, including e-coli.

Yesterday, Mr Gormley said he would be considering the court’s judgment and introducing a licensing system.

“We know that in far too many instances septic tanks or on-site sewage treatment systems are causing pollution. The absence of a licensing and inspection system is a major weakness in our overall environmental management structures,” he said.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent, 30 oct 2009

Law Society’s Reform Committee Questions the use of Occupancy Conditions for Rural Dwellings

November 17, 2009

The Law Society’s Reform Committee have produced a detailed analysis of the legal issues surrounding the imposition of occupancy conditions on applicants for rural dwellings by County Councils and An Bord Pleanála. The report appears to cast doubt cast as to whether all of the occupancy conditions currently utilised would have a substantive and firm basis against the backdrop of, Irish legislation, the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.

Please refer to link below which provides an excellent summary of the key points in the report:

One-off dwellings account for 17.4% of all permitted new dwellings in Quarter 2 2009

November 17, 2009

The Central Statistics Offices has released figures for the second quarter of 2009 which show that one-off dwellings account for 17.4% of all dwellings permitted  in Ireland during this quarter (12,831 dwellings).

Non-Local Applicants may be considered in specific circumstances

November 17, 2009

Recently (2008) it was confirmed by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government that there are certain circumstances where an applicant who is not local to a rural area may be considered for a local dwelling.  This arises out of the need to conform with Articles 43 and 56 (Freedom of Establishment [of business] and Free Movement of Capital) of the European Community Treaty.  Please contact David Mulcahy, Planning Consultant for further details.

Don’t buy it, build it

November 17, 2009

According to an article in the Home Section of the Sunday Times (4th Oct 2009) creating a home from scratch is now the cheapest option in some parts of Ireland:

“Outside Dublin, the average building costs per sq ft range from €75 to €91.  For example, it is €77.50 in Galway county (not city), €76 in Laois, €81 in Waterford, €91 Meath and €75 in Leitrim.  this means that building on a site in Loughrea, Co. Galway, on the market with planning permission for a 2,585sq.ft, four-bedroom, two-storey house, will have building costs of about €200,000.   When the site price of €120,000 is allowed for, the overall cost is €320,000, before furniture and fittings.  This compares favourably with houses of similar sizes in the area, priced from €360,000.”

Home Section, Sunday Times, pg.16