Tuesday, March 02, 2010
The following is the text of a letter sent by IPI President Gerry Sheeran to the Editor, The Irish Times on the subject of one-off rural housing. The letter is expected to be published 3rd March 2010.
Marian Harkin, MEP in her letter (26th February) states that my press release in The Irish Times of 13th February does not remotely represent the true figure for one-off houses in the countryside. She said the figure I was using was for Aggregate Rural Areas which included houses on individual septic tanks in towns with a population up to 1,500 as well as in rural areas. The Census does have a figure to measure individual houses in Aggregate Rural Areas but it is not the figure I have used.
The Census 2006, figure that I’ve used is for one-off houses given in Table 42, Volume 6 and the census states “One-off houses are defined as detached houses in rural areas with an individual septic tank or other individual sewerage treatment system”
The figure I gave for the current amount of one-off houses in the State was 450,000. This consists of 396,486 one-off houses given in the Census, 2006. Since that time (and given that it takes approximately a year to complete a house from the grant of planning permission) 73,000 one-off houses were granted planning permission in period 2005-2008. Taking a conservative estimate that only about 55,000 of these were built gives the figure of 450,000.
In any case, disputing marginal issues in statistics cannot mask the proliferation of one-off houses in the State from 156,000 in 1971 to the current amount. Since the Government issued in 2005 “Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines” to deal with this issue, planning permissions for one-off houses have continued at an unsustainable level. Apart from the environmental and social cost of the proliferation of one-off houses, there is economic cost in that it costs 3 times as much to service rural houses compared to those in villages, towns and cities in terms of road infrastructure, electricity, telecommunications, post, water supply and school transport. These costs, embedded in the various utilities, are paid for by the whole community.
The National Spatial Strategy, 2002-2020, deals with the demand for rural housing in 3 different types of rural areas ranging from those under pressure from and peripheral to cities to weak rural areas suffering population and economic decline. Even in regard the weak rural areas the NSS states” The long term answer to strengthening structurally weak areas requires the strengthening of the structure of villages and towns in these areas” There is a serious problem with the decline of many rural areas and this needs to be addressed by a coordinated package of measures and a review of the Government’s “White Paper on Rural Development, 1999”. Certainly, allowing a proliferation of one-off houses, most of which are for those working and commuting to cities and towns, is not a sustainable policy response.
I have stated that rural housing is required for those involved in essential rural activities and those who have a very close connection with the land. I would agree with Marian Harkin that there are serious deficiencies in water and sewerage in many of our towns and villages. This needs to be addressed along with the provision of a proportion of serviced sites in our towns and villages where people can build individual houses.
It is important that the development of our rural areas isn’t ad hoc but is evidence based and plan led. Rather than being confrontational, I would welcome discussion among the various stakeholders to achieve this.