Strict new planning rules to be introduced next year by the Department of the Environment and Local Government will cut sharply the number of new houses that can be built in Irish towns and villages.
Under the guidelines from the Minister, John Gormley, who is concerned at the explosive growth of many towns and villages in recent years, developers will only be able to build between 10 to 12 extra houses in villages that have fewer than 400 people.Planning permission for greater numbers would "usually be difficult or inappropriate due to an absence of a sufficiently developed urban structure to cater for the development and should therefore be discouraged".
Meanwhile, planning authorities will be told not to increase the number of houses in towns of up to 5,000 people by more than 10-15 per cent over the lifetime of a seven-year development plan, for the same reason.
Currently, local authorities and An Bord Pleanála must abide by the department's guidelines when dealing with county development plans, but councillors have had greater freedom for action when drawing up local area plans.
However, the Minister, who will publish the new guidelines for consultation next month, now intends to change the legislation so that councillors will no longer be able to ignore national planning standards, it is understood.
Councils should first use derelict or vacant sites, while houses built on greenfield sites in or near the existing centres should be developed so that residents are encouraged to walk and cycle, rather than drive, the guidelines say.
In particular, developers should be blocked from building estates "at some remove" from existing urban areas because this "militates against proper planning" and causes problems with the lack of street lighting, footpaths and other services.
Higher densities are "appropriate" in certain areas, particularly in towns and villages close to larger towns that have already been chosen as "gateways" under the National Spatial Strategy, according to the guidelines, which are to be effective from the middle of the year.
In an attempt to curb applications from people already living in towns to build one-off houses in the country, Mr Gormley now intends to see some land ring-fenced for this type of development on the edge of towns and villages.
The Irish Times