THE PLANNING appeals board has waded into the controversy surrounding the issue of ‘in-fill’ sites in rural Clare.
These are gap sites that are created where housing is built on either side. Under existing planning policy, those applying to build a house on an in-fill site can bypass certain restrictions including the requirement to prove a local housing need that applies to areas designated as being under strong urban pressure.
In a recent decision, An Bord Pleanála rejected a bid by a couple to build a house on a gap site around 1.5km from Lissycasey and 13km from Ennis. The board ruled the site, between two existing homes, was too large to be considered an in-fill. This meant that the applicants needed to demonstrate a local housing need, and their application had failed to do so. The decision copper-fastened the Council’s original refusal of planning permission.
Assessing the appeal, lodged on behalf of the couple by an agent based in Kilrush, the appeals board inspector referred to policy documents including the National Planning Framework (NPF), the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines and the current County Development Plan 2017-2023.
Inspector Liam Bowe noted the Council’s decision last December to refuse permission for the two-storey structure “due to non-compliance with rural housing policy” and the visual impact of the house. Mr Bowe noted that the NPF supports one-off rural homes in commuter catchments of cities and towns only where a local need exists.
He cited the Housing Guidelines which require planning authorities to “differentiate between rural housing demand arising from rural housing need and housing demand arising from proximity to cities and towns”. He then examined the Development Plan which designates the area as being under strong urban pressure and “an Area of Special Control”. In such areas, one-off houses are only permitted in limited circumstances where a person has a local connection or exceptional health or family circumstances.
The couple had appealed the Council’s decision on the basis that the local need requirement does not apply to in-fill sites. They said the pattern of the ten existing homes grouped together along the same stretch of road supported the status of the site as an in-fill, and provided examples of successful applications on what they contended were similar sites.
In its response to the appeal, County Planners argued that the site was larger than a typical in-fill and that, at around one hectare, was “four times the size of an average site in the countryside”.
Mr Bowe identified the crux of the appeal as being whether or not the site could be considered an in-fill. He said that if it was an in-fill, the rural housing need requirement would not apply.
He found that the applicants “have not demonstrated any economic or social need to live in this rural area that meets the requirements of the rural housing policy set out in the development plan”. The inspector then referred to the definition, as outlined in the development plan, that an in-fill is “a small gap site, sufficient to accommodate only one house, within an otherwise substantial and continuously built-up frontage”.
On inspecting the site, Mr Bowe noted that the roadside boundary was 60m in length. This was almost twice the length of the boundaries of the two adjacent sites. The appeal site was also much larger than neighbouring sites.
The inspector said he was satisfied that “this is not a small gap site and is not a substantial and continuously built-up frontage” as outlined in the Development Plan. In that context, Mr Bowe said the applicants had not demonstrated compliance with the requirements of the Plan.
Concluding the assessment, Mr Bowe said: “The proposed development, in the absence of any identified locally based need for a house at this location, would result in a haphazard and unsustainable form of development in an unserviced area, would contribute to the encroachment of random rural development in the area and would militate against the preservation of the rural environment and the efficient provision of public services and infrastructure and undermine the settlement strategy set out in the development plan”.
The issue of in-fill sites has proven to be highly controversial and generated major debate during discussions by councillors of the forthcoming Development Plan for 2023 to 2029. Councillor PJ Kelly has previously cited an “over correction” by planners who he said are likely to refuse permission for a one-off house, if it risks creating a new in-fill site on adjacent lands.
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at email@example.com or telephone 065 6864146.