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.