Posted tagged ‘rural planning’

Rural planning in Ireland

November 15, 2008

Over a cup of coffee in a city centre cafe in Dublin this morning, I got into a conversation with a German couple who were on their first visit to Ireland. They were due to return to Germany this evening, and were spending one last day in Dublin. Over the past few days they had, they told me, visited seven counties in different parts of Ireland. But what had struck them most – more than the weather, the pubs, the people, the craic – was the proliferation of small houses around the countryside. Indeed, they suggested, it was arguable whether Ireland still has something you could call a ‘countryside’ at all; rather, it just seemed a somewhat more sparsely laid out conurbation. And they thought this was shocking – in Germany, strict planning laws absolutely rule out the construction of residential dwellings outside of town limits except for active farmers.

I assured my new German friends that this was an issue that had been, was being and would be extensively debated in Ireland. Many articles have been written on the subject – this is an example – and it has also been a hotly debated issue in Northern Ireland. But we have no consensus in the matter, and some politicians have continued to adopt the position that people should have a right to build properties in the countryside.

There are many issues raised by this – to do inter alia with the provision of services and facilities, transport access, schooling, waste and sewage, to name but a few – but one we should also take into account is that visitors to Ireland find our planning practices inexplicable and find the results inimical to a good rural experience for tourism purposes. Not only have we been building everywhere, we have done it with buildings that are visually totally inappropriate, with bungalows derived from goodness-knows-what-style all over the place.

It is time, I think, that as a country we take a firm stand on this. If we want all of Ireland to be a sprawling housing estate, then let us say so. And if not, let us do something about it before it’s too late.