I propose to take Questions Nos. 27, 69, 83, 97 and 107 together.
In accordance with normal practice, the Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Rural Housing, published on 4 March 2004, were issued in draft form to give all those interested an opportunity to comment before the guidelines are finalised in statutory form. Submissions in relation to the draft guidelines were to be submitted to my Department by 30 April 2004. In view of the importance of the rural housing issue, my predecessor requested planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have regard to the draft guidelines with effect from their date of publication. The guidelines are a material consideration both in relation to development plans and in the consideration of planning applications. Planning authorities are required to review and vary their development plans, where necessary, to ensure that their policies on rural settlement are consistent with the policies set out in the guidelines.
A total of 105 submissions in relation to the draft guidelines have been received by my Department from interested organisations and individuals. The submissions have been examined in detail by my Department. I intend to carefully consider any suggestions for clarifying or improving the guidelines before they are finalised. It is my intention that the guidelines will be issued in their final statutory form by the end of this year.
I do not have any specific plans at this time to meet An Taisce in relation to the issue of rural housing. My Department received a submission on the draft guidelines from An Taisce which will be considered along with all other submissions received. The CSO's planning permission quarterly statistical release has included information on the number of permissions granted for one-off houses since the second quarter of 2002. My Department does not collect statistics on the total numbers of planning applications for one-off housing received by planning authorities nor on the number of such applications which are refused permission. However, last year a sample of planning authorities were contacted by the Department and asked to provide information on the numbers of decisions in 2002 on rural housing applications and the percentage of these decisions that were granted or refused. The information provided by the planning authorities sampled was as follows: on average 75% of applications for single rural houses made to the planning authorities surveyed were granted, the highest grant rates were in the westernmost planning authorities with grant rates falling somewhat in the more urbanised areas to the east; most planning authorities in the western half of the country grant around four out of five applications; and where permission is refused, the reasons for refusal generally relate to issues such as traffic safety, public health or protection of the natural and cultural heritage.
My Department is currently considering ways of developing a detailed statistical database to assist policy development and monitoring of trends in relation to rural housing.