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 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 co-ordinated 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 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 acts 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 is taking place in rural areas, pointing 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.
Every statutory City and County Development Plan, and by extension every Local Area Plan, includes comprehensive policies for provision of housing needs at local level. These policies are informed by my Department’s 2005 statutory Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Rural Housing, which 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).
Following engagement between the European Commission and my Department regarding the 2013 European Court of Justice ruling in the "Flemish Decree" case, a working group, comprising representatives from my Department and planning authorities, was established in May 2017 to review and, where necessary, recommend changes to the 2005 Guidelines, with a view to ensuring that rural housing policies and objectives contained in local authority development plans comply with the relevant provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
This Working Group concluded its deliberations in September 2017 and taking account of the Group's analysis and recommended outcome, my Department has been engaging with the Commission on the matter, with a view to issuing a further circular letter to planning authorities as soon as possible, setting out revisions to the 2005 Guidelines that take account of the relevant ECJ judgment.
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.