Planning rules for one-off housing to remain unchanged

Cllrs voted heavily to reject recommendation which would introduce restrictions on the building of one-off houses in rural Meath

Meath county councillors have claimed a major victory after voting to keep planning rules which will continue to allow one-off housing in rural areas, an ideal pursued by people who claim to have a connection to the countryside either through family links or who are engaged in work-related activity there.

Finishing touches are being made to the new development plan 2021-27 and it is expected councillors will vote on the plan this week. The first of several planned meetings was held on Monday when the council members met to consider the chief executive’s report on material amendments to the plan.

After 80 hours and 40 minutes of discussions on the draft plan which ended last March, it went on display for public consultation. Over 2,500 submissions on the draft were received from the public.

One of the most contentious issues was that of the building of houses in rural areas. At one stage, it had been proposed that planning applicants own 15 acres of land in the county before they could look to build in rural areas. This proposal caused consternation among would-be builders of one-off houses and led to a rush of planning applications which had to be dealt with by planning staff. Last March chief executive Jackie Maguire said that applications would be dealt with under the old 2013-19 plan and that there was “no need for applicants to panic”. However, that failed to assuage the fears of one-off applicants and planning notices continued to flood in to the Meath Chronicle newspaper.

Councillors voted heavily on Monday to reject the chief executive’s recommendation which would have introduced restrictions on the building of one-off houses in rural Meath. However, there is a question whether the councillors have won a battle but may lose the war if the Office of the Planning Regulators advises the Government to bring in tighter restructions.

Fianna Fail Cllr Paul McCabe welcomed the rejection of the chief executive’s advice, saying that councillors had sent a clear and unambiguous message to the regulator that people who were born and reared in rural Meath were entitled to construct a house for themselves and their families.

“This is a significant victory for the people of rural Meath”, he said.

“For our local post offices, shops, businesses and schools. This decision means that our rural areas ans villages will be sustainable and an attractive place to live and work”.

In a rallying cry to fellow councillors to reject the executive’s advice on rural housing, independent Cllr Brian Fitzgerald said they had got to identify with the very, very many people who had made submissions to the council on this issue.

Fianna Fail Cllr Aisling Dempsey said that rural families would breathe a sigh of relief on hearing that the councillors had voted to retain existing rural housing policy.

She said that many would remember that stringent rules like having to own a certain amount of land before planning permission would be considered, had been proposed at one stage and councillors had rejected these proposals.

At the same time they were in the difficult position of having to comply with national legislation .

“We may still fall foul of the Office of the Planning Regulator who can advise the Minister for Housing to overrule us but we must wait and see.”