Some thoughts on One-off Housing

Some thoughts on One-off Housing by Ciarán Cuffe published in the Irish Independent 3rd January 2004

A countryside without people is a place without a heart. People that work in rural areas or nearby should be allowed live there. But these days you can’t push a buggy down a country road without being prepared to jump into the ditch to escape cars hurtling around the corner. The drivers often live nearby, but are speeding to or from work in a town or city many miles away. A vibrant countryside should be based on communities who live, work and relax there. However it is not sustainable to build vast amounts of one-off houses in rural areas for people who are working in towns or cities many miles away. Planners call this urban generated rural housing, and are increasingly concerned at the social, economic and environmental difficulties that it causes.

Socially it doesn’t make sense for people to spend vast amounts of their time travelling to and from work. This cuts down on their ability to form part of the community in which they live. In economic terms, it costs more money to provide a bus service or medical help to people who live far apart. People who don’t have access to a car such as the young or elderly are dependent on others to drive. Older people often find it easier to live in communities where shops and church are located within walking distance. In environmental terms, driving long distances damages the planet as car emissions contribute to Global Warming. Septic tanks have polluted the ground, and wells that supply drinking water have been contaminated.

If we have a planning free-for-all, those who should be living in the country may well be priced out of the market as more people build second homes and houses for renting. The Irish Rural Dwellers Association has called for a relaxation of planning controls. However many of the restrictions on development make sense. We should protect scenic areas from development. If everyone builds houses around the Lakes of Killarney, tourists will go elsewhere. It also makes sense not to allow houses beside busy National roads because of the risk of accidents.

Spiralling housing costs in our cities and towns have left many unable to afford housing. Even for those who can afford a home, the choice is often a shoebox apartment or a uniform semi-detached house. That is part of the reason why people want to build their own home in the countryside. The Government should make more land available in urban areas so as to reduce prices, and promote good design to create liveable neighbourhoods. That means building the corner shop and the playground before people move into their new homes. Providing decent quality housing at affordable prices in our towns can help persuade people not to go for the one off-housing option.

Sixty years ago DeValera described a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads’. The Green Party wants rural areas to thrive. We don’t want people to leave home before dawn and only get home after night falls. We want to make it easier for people who belong in the countryside to live there, but urge caution on relaxing planning controls. Planning Authorities should also encourage the use of sustainable materials, higher insulation and proper landscaping.

We must think carefully about where we place new housing. Last year about 40 per cent of the new homes built were one-off houses. Over the next ten years around 500,000 new homes will be built in Ireland. If we do things right, we will build communities that will foster our children from youth to old age. However if we don’t plan carefully and allow anything to be built anywhere we will store up problems for generations to come. ENDS

Irish Independent 3rd January 2004, webpage published 10th January 2018