Public consultation on overhaul of one-off rural housing guidelines delayed

Contentious issue of rural housing re-emerges due to resignation of junior minister Damien English over his planning application for one-off home

Plans to consult the public on the first overhaul of national guidelines for one-off rural housing in almost two decades have been delayed.

Fine Gael previously announced that the draft guidelines were set to go out for public consultation before Christmas but this did not happen.

The document is at an “advanced stage” of drafting and will go out for public consultation “shortly”, according to the Department of Housing.

The often contentious issue of one-off rural homes has re-emerged due to the resignation of Fine Gael junior minster Damien English on Thursday.


The Government moved swiftly to fill the vacancy created by Mr English’s departure. An incorporeal Cabinet meeting approved the appointment of Dublin Rathdown TD Neale Richmond as the new Minister of State across the Departments of Enterprise and Social Protection.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Mr Richmond as “an exceptionally capable politician... who has been to the forefront of issues arising from Brexit”.

Mr Richmond said on Friday that he was delighted with the new role which includes responsibility for employment affairs and retail business. He said he was “keenly aware this hasn’t come about in ideal circumstances but looking forward to taking on this new responsibility”.

Mr English resigned after The Ditch website revealed he had given Meath County Council incorrect information for a 2008 planning application for a one-off rural home. The Meath West TD did not disclose on a “Local Need Form” that he already owned a house nearby.

Prior ownership of a property is among a number of factors that form the eligibility criteria for building a one-off home under Meath County Council’s policy for rural housing.

The last national guidelines for planning authorities on Sustainable Rural Housing were published in 2005 and did not address the issue of property ownership.

Rural housing need is defined in that document based on criteria relating to a person’s job – like farming or working full-time in a rural area – or social needs like those of people who are “an intrinsic part of the rural community” based on residency or family ties.

A Department of Housing statement said some local authorities included broader considerations in the assessment of rural housing need such as property ownership. It added: “The forthcoming draft guidelines will offer some guidance in this regard.”

The statement said there had been “important changes” to the planning system since 2005 including EU and other international obligations related to the protection of the environment and the climate.

“The draft guidelines need to address all of these complex environmental issues, while also providing a framework for the sustainable management of housing in rural areas.”

The publication of the draft document is awaiting environmental assessments of the impact of the guidelines and this process is said to be “nearing completion”.

There are concerns in some quarters over the environmental sustainability of one-off rural homes.

Last November former Fine Gael minister of state for housing Peter Burke said there had been much commentary about the banning of one-off homes in the countryside. “I have been determined to put in place new guidelines which clarify that there will be absolutely no such ban,” he said.

Mr Burke has since assumed the role of Minister of State for European Affairs after December’s reshuffle. His successor at the Department of Housing, Kieran O’Donnell, now has responsibility for the new guidelines.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times