I welcome the opportunity to debate the need for a relaxation of the "locals only" planning laws which allow people born and raised in an area and wishing to build a one-off house in that area to do so and the need for discussion of the EU ruling of last year that the "locals only" planning rule introduced in 2005 breaches articles of the EU treaty which guarantees the free movement of capital and of people.
Prior to my election to this House, I spent 25 years in local government and I know that the matter of rural one-off houses has been the singular issue that has preoccupied councillors, planners and officials at local government level. In raising this issue I want to make it clear that I am not a supporter of bungalow blitz and I understand the concerns of environmentalists in relation to the proliferation of septic tanks and the dangers to the water courses and sources and the need for legislation framing county development plans. However, if we continue to put obstacles in the way of people who want to build in rural Ireland, we face the death of rural communities schools and rural living.
I would like to outline these planning practices to the House. It all started with people living in large towns being told they could not build in the countryside, which is somewhat understandable, followed by people in the countryside being told that unless they are sons or daughters of farmers and so on they must live where water and sewerage is available. Those who want to live in smaller areas are directed to centres where there has been no investment in roads, footpaths and lighting, making it almost impossible to find houses or sites to build on. The latest strategy is such that even if a person is lucky enough to identify a possible site, the planning authorities do their level best to nobble the application based on site line distances, soil type, the 400 m area requirement in relation to land between one house and the next. People are being told they cannot build on a mountain, near the sea, close to a motorway, a national primary route, a secondary route, a flood plain, which is understandable, or close to an infill site. Also, there must be a 400 m gap between a group of three houses. In my own county, if a person lives in a village that has water and sewerage he or she will never have the opportunity to purchase a site there. All in all, we are closing off opportunities for those traditionally and generationally entitled to remain in their local areas. In not allowing them the opportunity to aspire to live in the area of their choice we are in contravention of the European Court of Justice ruling in the Flemish decree case.
In May 2017, planning authorities were advised by the Minister of State, Deputy English, that they should not amend rural housing policies in their development plans until the guidelines have been revised. This is not good enough. People are champing at the bit to get permission to live in their local areas. It is my contention that within reason houses can be built in most areas with proper infrastructural and environmental guidelines.