THERE WAS heated debate yesterday before members of Kerry County Council voted to remove the so-called “townlands clause” which had allowed some flexibility for new houses to be built in rural area by young people near their family or relatives.
A majority of Kerry county councillors yesterday voted to amend the current county development plan by deleting this clause to bring it more into line with current regional and national guidelines on building in rural areas.
The meeting heard how just under 20,000 houses are empty in Kerry, according to the census. An Taisce had asked that these be prioritised for use.
A minority of councillors warned that rural planning was being further tightened, with the removal of a controversial “townlands” clause.
However, the county’s most senior planner strongly rejected claims that family members in Kerry were finding it difficult to get planning for houses in the countryside.
Director of services Michael McMahon said : “We are providing sufficient planning permissions for the population growth of the whole of this county in one-off houses alone. On average per annum we have been granting 1,000 rural houses in Kerry.”
That was outside the permissions for houses in urban areas, he added. “More than 50 per cent of housing in this county is in rural areas,” Mr McMahon added.
The new core strategy, which will continue with dezoning land begun over a year ago, saw a further tightening of rural planning, in an effort by planners to row back on the excesses of rural housing of recent years.
The amendment was carried by a majority of 17 councillors who voted in favour to six against. The six councillors against were Independents Danny Healy-Rae and his son Johnny Healy-Rae, Breeda Moynihan Cronin (Lab), John Joe Cullotty (FF), Paul O’Donoghue (FF) and Toireasa Ferris (SF).
However, a core of councillors yesterday objected strongly to the removal of a townlands clause which they said protected the rights of locals and close relatives of landowners to build houses in the countryside.
Clause 3. 7.12 in the rural settlement section of the county development plan, which was deleted yesterday, gave priority to applicants from the immediate locality and was inserted at the insistence of councillors in 2009. It said applicants from “at a minimum adjoining townlands” would be looked upon favourably.
Sinn Féin’s Toireasa Ferris said the removal of the clause left rural planning open to interpretation and gave planners a strong hand in refusing applications to locals and to relatives.
“Unless the applicant is from a stone’s throw of a site, they won’t get permission,” she warned.
A lot of farmers did not have children and they would like relatives to be able to build on the land, she said. “My interpretation of deleting 3.7.12 is we are handing the option over to the planners.”
Fine Gael’s Pat McCarthy said councillors were coming under a lot of pressure to explain “why people living in the countryside are being held responsible for the sins of decisions made in the past”.
Labour’s Breeda Moynihan Cronin urged planners to consider social aspects of their decisions in tightening up rural planning. “It’s a people issue, not a planning issue. Loneliness is a huge problem in rural areas and we have to let young people live there. You will see a complete diminishing of schools and other services.”
Planners also rejected a suggestion by Mr Cullotty to replace the townlands clause with “parish” to broaden the scope of rural planning. Mr McMahon said any attempt to put parish in the plan “would cause utter confusion”.