6 Jul 2007

The EC has accused 22 Irish local authorities of discrimination in how individuals are treated when making planning applications for new homes. It says that policies which favour ‘local’ people over ‘outsiders’ in getting planning approvals may not be in line with elements of the Maastricht Treaty which concern the fundamental right to ‘freedom of movement’ recognised within the EU.

The ruling supports the position taken by the Irish Rural Dwellers Association who for years have argued that the right of the individual, no matter who they are or where they’re from, to live in a rural area must be respected.

It also, let’s say, ‘diverges’ from the views held by such organisations as An Taisce and the Irish Times who’ve waged a relentless campaign against the construction of ‘one off houses in the countryside’ (an Irish Times editorial on the then imminent EC ruling last week was quite amusing: first, it said it ‘welcomed’ the EC’s statement, using the term ‘welcome’ as in: ‘smoking is not allowed on the premises, but you are welcome to step outside and smoke in the rain (what I’m saying is, The Times didn’t really welcome the ruling at all); then it put a spin on the EC’s position by making it sound like it would put a stop to all residential development in rural areas. Not so. The opposite is likely to be the case. Interesting editorial – kind of Comical Ali.)

Here’s the problem.

The majority of those who work within the planning process – architects, engineers, councillors, council officials – know that rural councils have development policies on their books which are based on bare naked discrimination. This sets up an air of confusion and cynicism on all matters to do with planning – if some discriminatory practices are permitted, what other immoralities, we wonder, will the planning authority tolerate?


By allowing one lie, the line between good and bad, fair and unfair, right and wrong can no longer be drawn. The insincerity required of a council official to impose an unfair policy on a community (discrimination on rural housing, for example) is now necessary in the application of all policies regardless of whether they are justified or not. Trust breaks down. Little abuses spring up. Lack of trust + little abuses (eventually) = chaos. And that’s where we are now – our planning system is in chaos.

Ireland is expanding. Some estimates say we’ll have a population of 8 million by 2020 but, who can say? We might be talking about 15 or 20 million for all they know. This will mean god-knows-how-many new houses, schools, crèches, police stations, underground systems and everything else that goes with rapid growth. To facilitate such growth we need to establish a new planning paradigm, one which permits development to occur wherever and whenever that development is necessary.


But the new paradigm must first be morally and philosophically robust and must, at its starting point, take account of peoples’ basic right to live their lives as they see fit. Planning, like life, is a complex, messy business. It would be nice if we could come up with a planning system which catered to all aesthetic considerations, but it is fundamental that we make the system fair.  

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