One-off Housing in Limerick’s Development Plan 2022-2028
Pictured above are two houses recently restored by Limerick Council, an excellent example of how we can bring our massive stock of vacant and derelict houses across the County back into use.
1960s Ireland presented very few options to own your own home: by inheritance; a public housing list or building one. Houses during this period were often dark, damp and poorly built which contributed to high mortality rates among young children. The roll out of rural electrification raised the standard of living across the country, but these substandard housing conditions were being seen in new light.
In 1971, the architect, Jack Fitzsimons, employed by Meath County Council, published a small booklet entitled Bungalow Bliss. This seminal publication was a watershed moment that would go on to change Fitzsimons’s life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of his fellow rural dwellers in Ireland. Bungalow Bliss contained twenty fully costed designs and instructions for building a house which sought to take advantage of available government grants. Fitzsimon’s book heralded a change in living conditions and empowered a new generation to build their own future.
Entire lives played out within the walls drawn from Fitzsimons’ books, these houses were homes that held hopes and ambition, dreams and independence, and more practically, light and heat. These homes broke the cycle of rural poverty, stemmed the flow of emigration, reduced housing lists and reshaped inheritances.
However, as private car ownership increased, more and more urban dwellers began seeking an escape from the noisy, polluted, traffic filled towns and cities characterised by increasing house prices and a scramble for expensive building sites. They began to desire the idyllic Irish life in the countryside and sought their own slice of paradise.
Rural landowners made a lot of money from the sale of road frontage, local authorities generated significant revenue from Capital Gains Taxes and soon, Bungalow Bliss became a Bungalow Blitz exasperated by everyone trying to get in on the action. This moniker came to symbolise the exodus from the urban to rural landscape.
Fast forward to the Celtic Tiger era and the one-time ubiquitous bungalow made way for bigger houses on bigger plots of land. The new house building craze ushered in the era of the home cinemas, outdoor football pitch, and ever-larger garages to store the growing fleet of family cars. One-off houses could now sustain almost all a family’s needs, completely detached from the local town or village.
The advent of the digital age has been the final death blow for Ireland’s urban centres. People can now order meals and groceries, stream movies, send electronic mail, bank, and even work from home. Suddenly our urban centres have become obsolete places, creating a void for vacancy and dereliction to take hold.
Ireland’s historic towns, villages, and cities once the beating heart of local and regional communities can still be restored as vibrant places to live, work and shop. The rural does not have to be the uncomfortable bedfellow of the urban, rather a balance and harmony can co-exist. It is up to us to agree upon decisive action now if we are to save our urban centres from further decline.
Limerick City and County Council is in the final stages of drafting our new Development Plan, which is set to be published by May 2021. The Limerick Development Plan is the single most important document in shaping our future in Limerick from 2022 to 2028. The plan acts as a blueprint for the development of Limerick physically, economically, socially, and environmentally.
The upcoming plan will be hugely significant, for it will be the first ever combined development plan of Limerick City & County since the merger of the two local authorities in 2014. The Limerick Development plan is based on Ireland’s National Planning Framework 2040 (NPF) and the Regional, Spatial & Economic Strategy (RSES) for the Limerick/Shannon Metropolitan Area.
The National Planning Framework encourages more urban focused settlement patterns in rural Ireland. New residential planning will facilitate ‘cluster living’ around towns and villages (information about plans pertaining to rural development can be found on page 92 of the report).
Click below to download the NPF in pdf.
Limerick’s Development Plan has featured recently in a news report written by Donal O’Regan of the Limerick Leader. Many councillors have raised concerns regarding the incoming planning laws. For instance, Cllr. Michael Collins (FF) said that in anticipation of these new planning restrictions on one-off houses, there has been a frenzy of planning applications put in by rural landowners.
Cllr Liam Galvin of Abbeyfeale (FG), is one of the most vocal critics of this plan. In a recent council meeting Mr. Galvin said this measure would be the death knell for rural Limerick, if it goes ahead and pleaded with the assembly that this would destroy rural families, as sons and daughters would no longer be able to build on family-owned land.
Cllr Eddie Ryan (FF) of Cappamore/Kilmallock, says that an outright ban of one-off houses would be bad for rural schools and rural post offices. Cllr. John Sheahan said Cllrs were being treated like ‘lambs for the slaughter’. Cllr. Jerome Scanlan said Cllrs would need to file a court injunction to stop these new planning laws from going ahead. Cllr. Brigid Teefy said there was a huge demand for rural houses and that it would be unconstitutional to prevent family members from building on family land.
Chief Executive of Limerick Council, Pat Daly, assured elected members that he would ‘fight the fight’ against the Planning Regulator to ensure these new planning laws are not included in Limerick’s Development Plan, but added that it will be a “battle royale”.
Two very polarised positions have evidently emerged regarding the issue of one-off housing in rural areas. But perhaps we ought to facilitate open dialogue before launching ourselves into any kind of ‘battle royale’ against National Development Plans which have been years in the making to guide our country to more sustainable systems of development over the coming two decades?
A recurring theme in Irish Public Administration has been the disparity between policy and implementation. Many policies look and sound wonderful on paper, but are implemented heavy handedly at Local Level by those tasked with the job.
The concerns raised by Limerick’s County Councillors are just as valid as the planning guidelines proposed in the NPF 2040. It is the role of any Council Executive to engage with both National Policy and Local Needs to proceed with a fair and balanced approach to implementation. Unfortunately, in Ireland there is little that can be done to remove or at least hold to account an under-performing executive.
This is one reason why Limerick needs a Directly Elected Mayor with Executive Powers sooner rather than later.
As Mayor, I would seek to facilitate open public meetings to gain consensus on how we are to tailor the vision of the NPF to local needs and context in Limerick’s Development Plan. It is crucial that the public contributes to this plan; it is their voice that should shape the physical, economic, social, and environmental future of our county.
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