FAMILIES hoping to build one-off houses in country areas have been dealt a severe blow after top planning officials blamed rural toilets for polluting drinking water sources.
An Bord Pleanála said up to 17,000 one-off homes were built in the countryside each year and the proliferation of septic tanks caused concern given Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies that showed 57% of groundwater was already contaminated by excrement.
“The 15,000-17,000 rural houses being built every year are adding to pressure on groundwater resources and must be accounting for some of the decline in standards reported by the EPA,” said board chairman John O’Connor.
He said a third of permissions for rural houses overturned by the board were refused because of a risk of pollution and criticised local authorities for granting permission without adequate checks.
Applicants should not even be given outline permission until they proved the site could provide safe drainage, he said.
His remarks prompted an angry reaction from the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association (IRDA), which labelled the board “anti-rural”. “IRDA members and all rural people have to put in high quality modern treatment plants at their own expense without one penny’s input from the exchequer while providing one-third of the tax money going to upgrade treatment plants in urban areas,” said the association’s acting secretary, Jim Connolly.
“If some equity is to be brought into the system, grants should be made available for upgrading plants and percolation areas in the countryside.”
An IRDA delegation will meet with An Bord Pleanála officials next week to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, the board confirmed that a decision on the controversial Poolbeg incinerator would be made next week or the week after. Mr O’Connor rejected suggestions the board would be influenced by comments from Environment Minister John Gormley who is opposed to the project. Such decisions were based on legislation, EU
directives and national policy, not politicians’ remarks, he said.