A TIGHTENING-UP of planning rules will see a ban on local authorities approving one-off rural housing unless strict criteria are met.
The draft plans, announced by Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday, will oblige county councils to take account of national planning policies when preparing development plans, spelling the end of housing estates and one-off houses located far from roads, water, electricity supply and public transport links.
The move comes after two cases in the past year where the minister told local authorities to revise their county development plans.
Monaghan and Mayo County Councils were told their policies did not comply with national guidelines because too much land was being zoned for housing.
In the past, some county development plans and local area plans have failed to abide by national planning guidelines, such as the National Spatial Strategy, Regional Planning Guidelines and the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines. This has led to piecemeal development in some parts of country.
The new amendment to the Planning and Development Act will insist that local plans conform to the national guidelines, rather than just "have regard" to them. And the draft rules will be designed to secure a better return from investment on infrastructure.
Mr Gormley said yesterday the amendment bill was not designed to stamp out one-off rural housing, but it would insist on councils meeting strict criteria before granting permission or face being told to revise their decision.
"This is not about one-off housing," he said. "It's about more coherence between the National Spatial Strategy and development plans. I've never suggested councillors are running amok, I have the highest respect for them and want to enhance their powers at a local level."
But Fine Gael party leader on Mayo County Council, Paddy McGuinness, said local councillors had no role to play in the development of national strategy, which often didn't meet the needs of local communities.
"He talks about the National Spatial Strategy but there has never been any county councillors involved in shaping that strategy," he said. "There are no suggestions as to what involvement local representatives should have."
Other measures include a condition that projects which require an Environmental Impact Assessment cannot be granted planning permission after a project has been built. This has been brought in after a ruling by the European Court of Justice found that an EIA should have been carried out before the Derrybrien wind farm was constructed in Galway.
Other changes include a requirement that 75pc of councillors must approve changes to a development plan, instead of a simple majority. Flooding risks must also be taken into account in the planning process and certain renewable technologies will not need planning permission.
Building rules requiring that new homes must use 40pc less energy than under current standards will also be made law.
The moves were welcomed last night by the Labour Party, but it said the Government needed to invest more in towns and cities outside Dublin.
The President of the Association of County and City Councils, which represents councillors, also welcomed the proposals.