The National Planning Framework (NPF) will not represent “some sort of clampdown on rural housing”, minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy told Senators last week. 

The NPF  is due to be published today (16th February 2018) in Sligo, and will be available from 2PM on gov.ie/2040

The NPF will be passed into legislation, giving it a statutory footing to roll out the €115 billion capital investment plan, and a regulatory body will be established to oversee local authority planning policy and implementation.

In the Seanad, Murphy said: “Nothing in [the NPF] suggests any sort of a policy shift from what local authorities are supposed to be doing at the moment in terms of implementing the rural housing guidelines, which is broadly to apply a general siting and design-based policy across the country for the purposes of determining rural housing planning applications and in some limited areas around the main cities and towns that are under genuine pressure from significant unco-ordinated and ribbon type development, to ensure that in such areas, housing need should be determined by social, economic or occupational linkages to the rural area in question.”

“Moreover, while the framework endorses a more rigorous approach to assessment of housing needs in general, the reference to a housing demand need assessment, HDNA, is very simply a local authority-led comprehensive assessment of the housing needs of its area, in other words assessing the housing expected to be built within the area, including in rural areas. In a nutshell, what the NPF is really calling for is a properly planned approach to identifying, meeting and managing the real housing needs arising in rural areas. There is nothing to fear in it.”

Locals-only rules

The Minister also highlighted the upcoming changes to ‘locals only’ rules, which will introduce new guidelines preventing local authorities from turning down one-off housing applicants because they are not from the local area.

The Department of Housing told Selfbuild that while there may be mention of the locals-only issue in the NPF, the process of changing the  2005 planning guidelines on sustainable rural housing  is “different and separate”.

The negotiations with Europe on the workings of the local-only rules are still “ongoing”, the Department told Selfbuild.

However the consultation period with local authorities was concluded late last year. That consultation was attended by six representatives nominated by the Local Government Managers Association (the umbrella for local authority senior management) as well as three senior officials from the Planning Division of the Department of Housing.

Rural isolation and sprawl

Self-builders building their own home in the countryside have been criticised as the cause for sprawl and contributing to rural isolation.

Others such as Michael Moynihan Fianna Fail TD for Cork North West argue that self-builders are the backbone of rural communities, keeping schools open and paying for their own infrastructure.

Selfbuild opines the success of the National Planning Framework will depend on whether the measures revitalise rural towns and villages — a promise that’s been made in the past and an aspect critics of the draft plan say was not tackled adequately — and most crucially whether it invests in public transport infrastructure to make going into towns and villages an attractive option to rural dwellers.