Sunday 17 June 2007

EU to decide that one-off house rules are illegal

Planning guidelines in 22 counties which favour people connected to the locality are likely to be scrapped following a complaint to the European Commission.

The commission has completed an examination of the development plans of the counties following a complaint from an Irish citizen who was refused planning permission to build a house in Wicklow.

Planning guidelines inWicklow restrict non-locals from being granted permission for one-off rural houses.

The commission is expected to announce within the coming month that many of the restrictions in the county development plans are illegal under European law.

It finds that many of the provisions concerned are discriminatory, disproportionate and constitute restrictions on the free movement of capital and the freedom of establishment guaranteed by the European treaties.

The Irish government is likely to be notified shortly by Ireland’s EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy once the commission formally approves the results of the investigation.

The findings mean that the development plans of the counties concerned will have to be re-written to remove the offending provisions. One planning source who spoke to The Sunday Business Post speculated this was likely to make permission for one-off rural housing more difficult to obtain.

The areas concerned are Carlow, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Fingal, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Laois, Longford, Limerick, Louth, Offaly, Sligo, Tipperary North and South, Wexford, Westmeath and Wicklow.

All of these counties restrict building permission to people who have connections with the locality - whether as natives of the area, through long-time ownership of land there, or by direct family relationship to it.

Some western counties restrict permission to Irish speakers, which the commission has also found is discriminatory. Rural planning has been a controversial political issue in recent years.

There has been a proliferation of one-off housing in Ireland in recent years. It is estimated that about 32,000 such houses are built in the Republic every year, about ten times the output of the whole of Britain.

Environmentalists and many planners have warned that such development is unsustainable.

Local and central government has responded by trying to limit the housing, though not in such a way that prevents local residents from building on their land for their families - hence the current guidelines.

Planners and government - where the relevant authority is the Department of the Environment, now headed by Green TD John Gormley - will have to find a new way around these obstacles.

Sunday Business Post

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