Stopping rural decline

Sir, – John O’Dwyer (Opinion, July 25th) raises interesting points about the decline of rural Ireland. His observation that the rural population has actually risen at the same time as rural businesses are diminishing, draws the unavoidable conclusion that traditional rural businesses and modes of living and are simply not meeting the needs of contemporary rural people.

Rural Ireland has become in large part a dormitory for urban workers. A multitudinous scattering of close communities living in small dwellings in village and town centres or in farms has morphed into a sprawl of one-off houses, whose occupants frequently commute long distances to work, and who think little of driving to do their shopping and other business in large regional towns.

The kind of rural Ireland O’Dwyer and others want to save is very different to the place rural Ireland has actually become, and none of O’Dwyer’s suggested actions will change this.

We would all love to live in large detached houses, but this style of living isn’t conducive to preserving the thriving small towns and villages that have traditionally characterised rural Ireland. A return to density in small-town urban living is required to get residents interacting and spending locally. To do so, rural councils must make it less attractive to build one-off houses, perhaps via higher development levies, and incentivise living in rural centres, perhaps through reduced property taxes.

Rural areas should be lowering barriers to inward migration and actively promoting themselves as great places to live. Instead, prejudice and fear, stoked by opportunistic politicians, has led many rural councils to impose barriers to inward migration, particularly by limiting planning permission for houses to those with family ties. It is glaringly obvious that if the movement of new people in is discouraged, while natural movement out is continuing, then local centres will inevitably stagnate and decline.

Politicians who peddle the populist myth of a “rural-urban” divide are actively contributing to the acceleration of rural decline, not working to end it. Rural voters would do well to remind them of that in future elections. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Irish Times 27 July 2016


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