A rural housing dispute Mayo simply can't afford to lose

ELECTED members of Mayo County Council are locked in a battle with the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) over rural planning.

The decision of the 30 councillors to reject a recommendation by the OPR when adopting their new county development plan has come to a head.

The regulator, in line with national policy, insisted that residential development should be banned along all roads leading to a national primary or secondary route.

This proposal, based on the need to reduce the level of vehicles accessing and exiting busy roadways in the interest of improving traffic safety and cutting accident rates, was regarded as unacceptable by the councillors.

They interpreted it as another needless attack on rural communities by literally rendering useless hundreds of acres of family-owned lands on which to build houses.

So, with the backing of the council's senior officials and planners, they politely chucked the proposal in a dustbin.

And rightly so.

After all, how can an agency supported by the government insist on such action being taken in the first place when there has been such an abject failure of housing provision in recent years?

Furthermore, policies drafted and agreed at national level may be fine and dandy for counties like Dublin with high traffic and accident rates.

But they are simply unsuitable for rural communities like Mayo.

Consequently, the time has come for those in decision-making positions at the OPR to leave their cosy offices in Dublin and make regular visits to rural villages and parishes in Mayo before issuing such dictats.

Their objective, after all, is 'to ensure that Ireland’s 31 planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála deliver planning functions of high quality and standards for the benefit of our country'.

On the basis of what they are insisting should be put in place in Mayo, it will be anything but beneficial to a county in the midst of a housing crisis not to allow new dwellings to be constructed on such large swathes of land.

One suspects Mayo County Council has a battle on its hands to achieve victory and they could certainly do with all the support they can muster, especially from rural-based Oireachtas representatives.

It's a fight rural Ireland can't afford to lose.

See also: Planning battle over Mayo rural housing escalates