MEP asks council to consider relaxing rural housing restrictions

MEP asks council to consider relaxing rural housing restrictions

MEP asks council to consider relaxing rural housing restrictions

Declan magee

Several submissions calling for Donegal County Counci to relax restrictions on building in rural areas of the county have been made to the review of the county development plan, including one from MEP Pat ‘The Cope' Gallagher.

Mr Gallagher has said the restrictions should be reviewed because of the economic pressures people are facing.

The former Donegal South West TD has leant his support to submissions in the review of the county development plan that recommend planning restrictions be lifted on development in rural areas of the county.

The restrictions in the county development plan include limiting holiday homes to 20 per cent of the housing stock in town lands outside of settled areas and ensuring homes built for permanent use are not used as holiday homes. The section also requires that applicants are able to prove that they have roots in certain rural areas.

The holiday home policy was one of the most controversial elements of the current plan. The restrictions were followed by an attempt by councillors to introduce a local buidlers' policy to allow certain developers to build a certain number of houses each year as a reflection of their importance to the local economy. This policy was dropped after objections from Minister for Environment John Gormley.

Mr. Gallagher has made a submission to the review of the county development plan endorsing a submission from Dungloe auctioneer Kenneth Campbell who called for the new plan to lift occupancy conditions to planning permissions. He said the restrictions are no longer necessary to keep sites affordable for locals and lifting the restrictions would benefit the local economy and generate revenue for the government through development charges and stamp duty.

Speaking to the Donegal Democrat, Mr. Gallagher said he did not want to tell the council what to do but asked that it considers relaxing restrictions on the sale of land and homes in rural areas. He said he hoped the council would consider making the restrictions "less onerous".

"Because of the times that are in it, I would say let them sell it (the land). In light of the economic circumstances and in light of the pressures that are on people I would say they (the council) should give it serious consideration. You find people who are in dire straits at the moment and if they are in a position to sell a piece of land, if it has an indigenous clause on it, the council should give serious consideration to lessening the restriction, particularly in view of the economic climate.

Cahir of the Gweedore Chamber of Commerce, Eamon Mac Giolla Bhride, also made a submission calling for the removal of the section 47 conditions which he said have "exacerbated the economic downturn in the Rosses and Gweedore resulting in widespread unemployment". He said the restrictions are no longer necessary to keep sites affordable for locals and the policies have been forcing people to leave the county.

Out of a total of 101 submissions to the plan, 21 made references to rural housing. The issues they addressed included satisfying genuine local rural housing need, limiting further holiday home developments, the oversupply of housing, rural housing in the Gaeltacht, ribbon development policy, and groundwater pollution.

The regional planning guidelines predict Donegal's population to grow by just under 13,000 by 2016. Between 2000 and the end of last year 17,000 planning permissions were granted for rural houses and over 5,000 houses were on the market in July, 2009. The council says this level of supply can provide for over 15,000 people. Of the applications received between 2000 and 2006 in the county, 85 per cent were in rural areas. The council says this indicates both the nature of rural house supply and the pattern of people moving from towns and villages to rural areas.

In his response to the submissions to the plan County Manager Seamus Neely said meeting genuine rural housing needs will continue to be a central component of council policy.