Thursday, 20 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines
I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. Our respective local authorities were always high on the agenda when it came to development plans. It is an important issue for many in rural Ireland. I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to provide an update on the review of the 2005 planning guidelines on sustainable rural housing issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.
Like all statutory planning guidelines issued under section 28, the rural housing guidelines are intended to be applied on a consistent and uniform basis by all planning authorities. Under the guidelines, planning authorities are required to frame the rural housing planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way. The aim is to ensure the housing needs of rural communities can be met, while simultaneously taking into account the principles of sustainable development and avoiding excessive urban generated development. The guidelines further aim to ensure sites being developed for housing in all rural areas are suitable with reference to vehicular access and wastewater disposal and also from landscape and design perspectives. In addition, they outline a number of criteria to be taken into account in local authority development plans for the purpose of assessing whether planning applications for rural housing are intended to meet a rural generated housing need. These "local needs" criteria relate primarily to planning applicants having familial or occupational ties to the rural area in question.
In 2007 the European Commission issued an infringement notice against Ireland on the 2005 guidelines which was specifically related to the “local needs” criteria having regard to a potential conflict with the freedom of movement principle in the EU treaty. The infringement case was subsequently deferred, pending the outcome of a related European Court of Justice case against Belgium, generally known as the Flemish decree case. The Flemish decree linked the sale or transfer of property in certain Flemish communes to the condition that there should exist a sufficient connection between the prospective property buyer and the relevant community. This had the practical effect of precluding non-locals from purchasing property in the Flemish communes in question. In 2013, the ECJ ruled that the Flemish decree constituted an unjustified restriction on freedom of movement under the EU treaty. Following the ruling the European Commission re-opened the infringement case against Ireland on rural housing guidelines.
On foot of the ruling and subsequent engagement between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the European Commission, a working group was established in May 2017 to review and recommend changes to the 2005 guidelines. The working group comprises senior officials from the planning division of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and senior officials from the planning divisions of local authorities nominated by the local government sector. In making recommendations, the objective of the group will be to ensure that rural housing policies and objectives in county development plans comply with the relevant provisions of the EU treaty. The working group must take account of the rural housing policy related objectives contained in the national planning framework, NPF, in its deliberations on the review of the 2005 guidelines. As a general guiding principle, the NPF fully supports the sustainable development of rural areas by seeking to encourage growth and arrest decline in areas that have experienced low population growth or population decline in recent decades. These are considered to be weaker rural areas, as such. At the same time, the NPF also highlights the need to manage certain stronger rural areas around cities and towns that are under pressure from urban-generated development to avoid overdevelopment of those areas. It also requires planning authorities to carry out a housing need demand assessment to correlate and accurately align overall future housing requirements across all types and tenures in rural and urban areas as an evolution of existing housing strategy requirements under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Accordingly, the NPF objectives are aligned with the approach already expected of planning authorities under the current 2005 guidelines.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government intends to provide further guidance to local authorities later this year to support their housing need demand assessment work as part of the review of their development plans. The working group has met on five occasions. Subject to the completion of its ongoing deliberations, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will be in a position to finalise and issue to planning authorities revisions to the 2005 rural housing guidelines. The aim is to ensure that these revisions strike a balanced and reasonable approach to rural housing in line with the objectives in the national planning framework while also taking account of the ruling in the Flemish decree case. The revisions to the guidelines will be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act. This means planning authorities and, where appropriate, An Bord Pleanála will be required to apply the revised guidelines in the performance of their statutory planning functions specifically in respect of the assessment and determination of planning applications and appeals for rural housing proposals.