I propose to take Questions Nos. 759 and 765 together.
Project Ireland 2040, within which the National Planning Framework (NPF) sits, will ensure that we maintain the fabric of our rural communities, support the growth of rural towns while recognising the need for the open countryside to continue to be a living and lived-in landscape, and invest to support job creation. The NPF is a national plan, with a high level ambition of creating a single vision, a shared set of goals for every community across the country, and to deliver on these in a way that makes sense for our communities, rural and urban alike.
The Framework recognises the need for sustainable and coordinated development of our towns, villages and rural communities. To this end, Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies will also be developed, which will link strategic national planning and investment with regional-scale physical planning and the local economic and community development functions of local authorities.
In addition, the Deputy will be aware that the Action Plan for Rural Development, published on 23 January 2017, takes a whole-of-Government approach, led by my colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, to the economic and social development of rural Ireland and will act as an overarching structure for the co-ordination and implementation of rural initiatives across Government Departments and other public bodies.
A high proportion of overall national house-building taking place in rural areas points to the degree to which indigenous communities in rural areas are being facilitated in meeting their housing needs locally, with a degree of overspill development from cities and towns as well.
In addition, my Department’s 2005 Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Rural Housing are designed to ensure that planning authorities strike a balance between managing the future of rural areas from a development perspective and at the same time enabling housing requirements of rural communities to be met. The Guidelines set out how planning authorities should frame their development plan policies for the different types of rural areas which may exist within the development plan area. These types of areas range from rural areas close to cities and towns at risk of overspill development and more remote areas with low levels of development pressure and consistent patterns of population decline. The Guidelines also set out policy advice on issues such as access to appropriate wastewater treatment facilities, potential impacts of the development on groundwater, landscape, natural and cultural heritage and addressing road safety issues (e.g. frontage onto national roads).
I am satisfied that a sufficiently flexible and robust policy framework is in place to ensure that rural communities can meet their housing needs and that the National Planning Framework reinforces this.