Friday 5 October 2007

Secret response to EU's rural house planning concerns

The Department of the Environment has responded to European Commission concerns about restrictions in local authority development plans. However, the department, which sent a comprehensive dossier on the subject to the commission last Friday, has refused to publish its views. A spokesman for the Minister, John Gormley, said the refusal was on foot of advice that the EU's interest could amount to the start of a legal action against Ireland for infringement of the EU treaty. The spokesman added that the department never publishes its responses in legal issues.

About half of the State's local authorities now include "local needs" restrictions in their development plans. The move restricts planning permission and sometimes ownership of homes to those who can demonstrate a local need - either that they are working in the area or already live in the area in a home which is not their own. The restriction initially applied to one-off housing but has spread to whole housing estates. Last June the EU told the Government that the restriction may be in breach of EU rules that guarantee the freedom of establishment and the free movement of capital. The commission invited the Government to submit observations on the issues. The Minister's spokesman said yesterday that the response had gone to Europe last Friday, September 28th, but there would be no publication of the contents. The spokesman said letters of formal notice from the EU were frequently the start of proceedings, and as such the State's response was never revealed.

Tim O'Brien
© 2007 The Irish Times

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