Wednesday 29 November 2006

Rural planning - Irish Rural Dwellers' Association

Useful Article by Liamy McNally

Planning for slick rural dwellers

Liamy MacNally There is nothing worse than smart ass city slickers who pride themselves in taking a swipe at people from outside the Pale. Apart from the obvious and most welcome lesson that was meted out to some of our city brethren on the hallowed grounds of Croke Park recently, city slickers often adopt a superior attitude towards those of us from outside the metropolitan 50 kilometres per hour speed limit. It is even more nauseating when the slickers meet on-line and hide behind the skirts of discussion fora to launch verbal scuds on people outside the capital. These egg-in-the-mouth scripts smack of the West Brit nonsense so familiar to a certain breed of misnamed professional.
Check out the discussion board of Irish website relating to the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association. The pages are graced with the repulsive scripts that belong to a colonial past, long dead but obviously, still hankered after by a few withered brains masquerading as architectural intellects. The reason for the architectural verbal outrage stemmed from a query for a contact number for the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association.


The Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association was set up in 2002 with national membership and is based in Co Clare. Its main aim is: “To unite all rural dwellers and people of goodwill towards rural Ireland and in the context of peaceful, multi-cultural co-existence in the common cause of ensuring, by legal and constitutional means, the growth and maintenance of a vibrant, populated countryside in the traditional Irish forms of baile fearann or dispersed village, sráid bhaile or street village and the clachán or nucleated clustered village.”

The IRDA is a voluntary, unfunded organisation that depends on the €20 annual subscription of its members to carry out its work. It was set up to tackle the unseemly and daft approaches to rural planning adopted by planning authorities. Regardless of 800 years of domination by outside forces it is still impossible for many Irish people to live in their own area because of the colonial interpretations adopted by many planners.

A planning ‘need’

Seeking planning permission is blocked first of all by the ‘need’ question. One must establish a need to build in an area. It is no longer enough to have a family history in an area, you must also establish a need to satisfy some off-the-wall loopy interpretation of planning laws that were drawn up to assist people not shackle them. In the Jewish times of Jesus, laws replaced the Law. Today, the laws are being used to deter, prevent and refuse access to rural areas to those people whose hearts are throbbing with the beat of the countryside. They want us to live in cities and towns. The cry of ‘To hell or to Connacht’ has been replaced by those awful terms, ‘further information requested’ or ‘planning permission refused.’ What is becoming of our country when diktats are promulgated by people using half-baked ideas? Minister Dick Roche states that his Rural Planning Guidelines are there to benefit people from rural areas.
“There is now a presumption in favour of one-off houses…,” he stated at the launch. It is a pity that planners throughout the country are not aware of the Minister’s intentions. The IRDA is standing up against the latest form of bullying – denying people access to live where they want in rural areas.
The IRDA is not advocating a free for all in planning matters. It is simply advocating a sensible approach. There have been calls for ‘proofing’ to take place in government policies to ensure that rural areas are not discriminated against; the proofing that is required is in the planning process. The country once played host to over eight million people. They did not live between blades of grass or in cracks in stone walls. They lived in homes.

Rural cleansing

What is happening across the Irish countryside is akin to an ethnic cleansing of rural life. People who operate under the guise of ‘planners’ in this country do not even have to have an Irish qualification. The acceptable norm of being a ‘qualified planner’ in Ireland - those who make recommendations to grant or refuse our planning applications – refers to an international accreditation by the Royal Town Planning Institute (London) or similar, according to the IRDA. “These qualifications involve no recognition whatsoever of the special position of the island nation of Ireland in respect of our history, culture, traditions, 5,000-year-old rural settlement patterns or the many subtleties and nuances that make our country and our Irish race unique. Under Departmental regulations, non-national planners are not obliged to take courses whatsoever in relation to the ‘Irish’ dimension before taking up employment in this country.”
The planners irony does not stop there. When the Minister introduced the regulations one would have expected the planners of the country to rejoice that the person local authority planners are deemed to serve under had made an important determination in matters so dear to people of the country. Instead, the Irish Planning Institute opposed Government policy on rural housing! On the one hand, the Government attempted to deal with an explosive issue in a sensitive manner, yet those deemed with a duty of care to carry out the policy ‘mutinied’. Ah sure it is a great country! It could only happen here. The tail wags the dog and gets away with it!
The IRDA claims that the current President of the Irish Planning Institute, Mr Hank van der Kamp, “recently suggested we need a complete ban on rural housing similar to the one imposed on Northern Ireland by a British Minister in 2006. In these circumstances, where the professional organisation representing planners in the country is expressing views that are in direct opposition to Government policy on rural housing, it is nonsensical to suppose that individual IPI members do not reflect this anti-rural housing bias when assessing individual applications. The citizens’ rights to fair and objective treatment from these public servants is a sick joke.”
The IRDA goes on to claim that “the overwhelming ethos, background and qualifications of planners are towards urbanisation. They have no problem pursuing this ideology under Irish planning law.”

Taking control

Regardless of the Minister’s good intentions on rural planning laws, they cannot work when planners are unaccountable. Planners can argue that they only make recommendations rather than planning decisions, which are the remit of the relevant Town or County Manager, but the reality is that planners and/or Town and County Managers remain unaccountable to the people of the country. They are neither elected nor ever have to seek re-election. It is time that respective Town or County Managers took control in planning matters in their respective domains. Obviously, the history of the recommendations from certain planners is not a history to cherish in this country. Actions speak louder than words.
The IRDA is taking action, even to the point of meeting and preparing and submitting a joint proposal with the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) to Minister Dick Roche for the introduction of a national Planning Monitoring Forum. The proposal was rejected by the Minister! Was the Minister afraid that these architects subscribed to!

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