Sammy Wilson defender or destroyer of the countryside?

The new Environment minister Sammy Wilson has suggested that reaching an agreement on rural building cannot be achieved but that he will not accept a free-for-all which destroys one of our most valuable assets, the beautiful landscape.” He claims that SF and the SDLP want a much more relaxed policy on rural house building:

“A policy which to be quite frank would be far more relaxed than the policy which Lord Rooker had to bring an end to because it had led to 14,000 successful applications in two years.” The PPS 14 planning policy had banned single rural dwellings. This was declared illegal but has not been overturned. The PPS 14 rules were introduced in response to the large number of houses being built in the countryside; described by some as “A rural acne.” The rule changes, however, resulted in protests and claims that it would “devastate” rural communities. When the PPS legislation on was declared illegal there was a sudden rash of planning applications.

The situation is complex with suspicions that in the past applications were made for planning permission supposedly for retirement homes, yet these houses were then sold on. Some parts of the RoI and NI have been badly affected by “Bungalow Blight” and as Jim Wells observes here:
“I despair. I drive through areas I knew 20 years ago and the roadsides are full of big stone pillars topped off with [concrete] eagles. The owners are no more farmers than you or I. There are peacocks on the lawn. It’s a lovely form of living. It’s hard to beat, but if everyone aspires to living in the countryside then it won’t be the country side any more.”

In GB it has traditionally been extremely difficult to build dwellings outside towns or villages whereas throughout RoI and Northern Ireland it has been quite easy. In the short to medium term the credit crunch may result in less pressure to build new homes in the country and indeed there are large numbers of unfinished or unsold new rural houses. However, a longer term solution to the problem is needed.

  • Peat Blog

    “The PPS 14 planning policy had banned single rural dwellings. This was declared illegal but has not been overturned.”

    Just to point out that the content of the PPS was not commented upon by the judge but it was deemed illegal simply to the fact that it was introduced by DRD rather than DOE. This has been rectified by the DOE (and hence is Sammy’s rather than Murphy’s to deal with).

    Sammy could be playing clever here (perhaps a contradiction in terms?) as the DUP were equally scathing of Rooker’s PPS, especially Ian Junior. However, were he to bring out a policy which is not as restrictive as it currently is but still pretty weak he can always blame the other parties who can take the green flak.

    The SDLP have been vociferous in the extreme at trying to get the policy overturned and Patsy McGlone is of course Chair of the Environment Committee. He is on record prior to the introduction of PPS14 stating that the previous policy was too strict and building should be opened up in green belt and countryside policy areas (see 5th March 2006 Press Release on http://www.patsymcglone.com).

    Relaxing the policy would be potentially catastrophic as, credit crunch or not, there are vast numbers of undeveloped planning approvals and many more still awaiting decision.

    The Green minister in the South is already looking at tightening up their policies as the real cost of sprawl is now hitting home.

  • slug

    I am totally with the Green Party, Wells, and Wilson on this one.

  • Delta Omega

    There has to be some level of common sense in this. If farmers are getting sites passed as retirement dwellings and then selling them on, then bring in legislation to stop that happening. What you don’t do is bring in legisaltion to stop building in the countryside altogether. It’s like people complaining about burning tyres on 11th night bonfires and the government responding by banning tyres.

  • Bally Lesson

    Quiz question:

    Where does Cllr Sammy Wilson, MP, MLA that well known gentleman farmer/ countryman live????

    Thats right you guessed it…
    in a very salubrious, modern single dwelling in the countryside, 4 miles from the nearest town.

    Is this a case of doing as I say, not as I do??

  • I know of farmers selling five or six sites for rural houses – they would apply for outline permission then advertise the site as such – quick £50k – £100k per site at the height of it.

    But just look around the countryside – best way is by air (next time you take off from aldergrove) – the planning laws here have been a complete disaster for years… when you look down from a plane there is just house after house scattered everwhere…

    then look again coming down over the “mainland” i know you love that word… and the building is much more conservative often not even visible from the roadways..

    years of ill-thought out planning legislation has ruined the countryside and then fixing the door after the horse has bolted is only going to agitate those who look around and say ” well jonny got a site in the next field so why can’t I”?

    This won’t be an easy issue to solve…

  • Peat Blog

    “What you don’t do is bring in legisaltion to stop building in the countryside altogether.”

    They didn’t do that Delta Omega as there were a number of exceptions within the policy, including for farmers that need to build, and for reusing older buildings. It wouldn’t suit the interest of the free-for-allers to allude to that fact, however. The more exceptions there are the more difficult it is to enforce and the more bureaucratic and long-drawn out the decision-making process could become.

    PPS14 certainly isn’t perfect but throwing it out would be irresponsible in the extreme. I also suspect Sammy is wary of doing so given the mountain of undecided applications that have to be gone through and the strain on resources that currently exists. Opening it up again would hasten in an even worse system crash.

  • Blackmouth

    “Is this a case of doing as I say, not as I do??”

    No.

  • Delta Omega

    Peat

    I’m not advocating throwing PPS14 out altogether, but there has to be some allowable level of building in the countryside. I was born and bred in the countryside and have no wish to relocate to a village or town. Moreover I would like my children to have the option of living in the countryside as well, but as I am not a farmer (just the son of one) the possibility of my kids getting planning permission in the countryside under the current draft PPS14 legislation, or anything remotely similar, is remote to say the least.

  • Peat Blog

    “the possibility of my kids getting planning permission in the countryside under the current draft PPS14 legislation, or anything remotely similar, is remote to say the least.”

    Good. There are thousands who are not farmers who would also like to get permission and, if they did, it would make the whole thing a joke again. Why should urbanites subsidise rural dwellers?

    It is the cumulative impact that is most concerning with rural building and it can only be viewed in this context, not on an individual site by site basis.

    There are thousands of undeveloped sites with planning approval. Why should more approvals be given when such large speculative numbers remain undeveloped?

    I also grew up in the country, on a farm, but hope to restore an old building not destroy as is so often the case.

  • joeCanuck

    Delta Omega. I think it would be unreasonable for your children to get preference. In my opinion, Farmers should be allowed to build one extra home for whichever daughter or son will eventually take over the farm and should not be allowed to build for every child. A line has to be drawn somewhere. The other children could build on the outskirts of a town or village.

  • Bally Lesson

    “Is this a case of doing as I say, not as I do??”

    No.

    How no, Mr Blackmouth?

    Sammy Wilson- surely a ‘townie’to the core lives in a single dwelling off the beaten track, not on the mains sewerage system, miles from a public transport link.

    There is no reason- in terms of the job he does- why he has to live in the countryside, and he has no family ties to the rural area concerned.

    Therefore IF he is saying that the building of single dwellings in the countryside should be severely restricted, and there should be a presumption against development, then surely he is denying others what he currently enjoys himself.

    Ironic at best, hypocritical at worst.

  • Peat Blog

    “Ironic at best, hypocritical at worst.”

    I would suggest the former but as the new policy hasn’t yet been published I guess we will have to hold off judgement.

    Someone is going to have to draw a line in the sand on an extremely difficult and emotive issue. Whoever does so will be open to finger pointing. Would it be any easier for rural people if Sammy lived in a brick terrace in the city? I don’t think so.

    How many of the politicans arguing against a stronger policy are farmers/landowners/agents/auctioneers or depend on such like for votes (and even funding – but of course we can’t find that out)?

  • its a battle against the perceived “my family have the right to remain on my land (build a house) and the actual need to preserve the countryside…

    SDLP and SF are in it for the rural vote so its an easy ride for them – DUP (with the buck stops with them Ministry) are in the stony ground trying to whack a tent peg in – not easy

  • joeCanuck

    If Sammy Wilson got planning permission without shenanigans, then how can he be fairly criticized? BTW, I’m not a fan of Sammy.

  • Delta Omega

    Peat

    In what way would urbanites be subsidizing rural dwellers? No one is asking for this.

    With regards to the thousands of undeveloped sites that already have planning permission I would suggest that you are exaggerating here – there are certainly not many in my area.

    BTW I also renovated an old property.

    Joe

    If farmers are only allowed to build as you suggest then the countryside will go into decline, as currently many children are not following their fathers footsteps into a farming career.

    Why should the other children have to build in towns or villages and give up the way of life that they have always known? What happens when these sites get used up – will you want to bring in legislation so that we all have to live in high rise flats? That’s the next progression in your argument.

  • Peat Blog

    “In what way would urbanites be subsidizing rural dwellers?”

    Do you not think that it costs more in taxes to pay for services in rural areas than it does in denser urban areas? Think about bin collection as a small example. In my area in central Belfast the same lorry can collect thousands of bins in a short space of time. To reach the equivalent number in a rural area, more man hours and fuel are necessary.

    It just isn’t economic in the long term and such unsustainable patterns of development will present a drag on our economy for years (which is partly why they are looking again at policies in the south due to the commuter hell around the main urban centres). Rural people are at a natural disadvantage when it comes to energy, public transport and other services and to provide these evenly would be exorbitant.

    “Why should the other children have to build in towns or villages and give up the way of life that they have always known? What happens when these sites get used up – will you want to bring in legislation so that we all have to live in high rise flats?”

    There are 36,000 empty properties in Norn Iron and even more in the South. Why not use these?

    The way of life of thousands of urban dwellers was decimated due to industrial and economic decline. The government did not protect (nor could they) these industries and few had the luxury of owning large, valuable assts such as land.

    Rural interests are massively overrepresented here so I would expect that the current policy will be significantly weakened, to our shame in my opinion.

  • Peat Blog

    “I would suggest that you are exaggerating here – there are certainly not many in my area.”

    Take a look at http://www.propertynews.com.

  • runciter

    If farmers are only allowed to build as you suggest then the countryside will go into decline

    How will the countryside ‘go into decline’?

    This threat is often made, but where has it ever happened?

    Why should the other children have to build in towns or villages and give up the way of life that they have always known?

    This claim that country-folk are being denied their birthright is hogwash. There are more houses in the countryside now than ever, and therefore more opportunities to live there.

    Anyway, the notion that country-folk have some special right to live where they were brought up is nonsensical. If my parents could afford to live in a good part of town, should I also be therefore entitled to live in that same area?

    What happens when these sites get used up – will you want to bring in legislation so that we all have to live in high rise flats?

    Er, no. You build beside the old sites in a controlled fashion. This is called ‘planning’. It works quite well in some countries although it has never really taken off in Ireland.

    “[Land use] planning means the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_use_planning

  • Rooster Cogburn

    Couldn’t agree more with the rare common sense talked by Runciter (and I say that as someone who would cheerfully sell off land for development if only I knew who the right people to bribe were).

  • wild turkey

    ‘Why should the other children have to build in towns or villages and give up the way of life that they have always known? ‘

    Well, DO, the point is if all the rural children exercise their ‘entitlement’ to build in the country they will, in effect, destroy the ‘way of life’ they have always known. Its a bit like fishing. My father was a fisherman, therefore all my brothers and sisters have the right to fish. Aggregate outcome? Eventually no fish.

    Times change and , unfortunately, some ‘ways of life’ do diminish and/or perish. Don’t believe me? Just ask families who used to reside in Belfast’s HolyLand if they have had to give up the way of life they have always known. Hmmm, and who caused that I wonder? Did the dispossesed families end up living in high rise flats? Do the polite and proper 4×4 driving parents of the students really give a shit? But they are apparently passionate about the rights of their wee’uns to build on the family farm after they leave university.

    I am a city boy and I do have my bias. However, the precious sense of entitlement amongst SOME of the culchietariat continues to amaze.