For many prospective homeowners, building a house on your own land has long been the only viable option. However, in the midst of a housing crisis, this has become increasingly difficult for a variety of reasons.
The demand for one-off homes is growing. According to the CSO there were 2,081 applicants for single houses in the first quarter of 2021, the highest quarterly figure since 2009.
But, according to Macra na Feirme, many local people are being denied planning permission.
President of the youth farming organisation, John Keane, said it’s a problem across the board, with members in Cork, Kildare and Cavan reporting issue with getting permission in recent months.
“We’ve had a member in Kerry, who is actively farming, and unable to secure planning permission.”
This farmer is now considering buying a property in a nearby town and commuting to work each day.
John said being miles away from livestock “just doesn’t work”.
“If you have a camera and you see a cow calving in the middle of the night, a half hour or a 10-mile journey can make a huge difference to the outcome of that event.”
Meanwhile, other members of Macra, who aren’t farmers but come from a farming background, have experienced similar issues.
“We’ve often seen a second farmer’s son or daughter being denied permission. The reason being that their older sibling has already been granted permission to build on their family land and they have a more genuine reason because [the older sibling] is a farmer.”
Some applicants are even intending to appear as farmers, in the hopes of boosting their chances of approval.
One applicant, who is not a farmer, told Newstalk they’re trying to get a herd number while another has plans to build a stable on the site, with no long-term intention of keeping horses.
'Young people can’t get back'
But John Keane says there are many reasons young rural people want to settle at home. He says if this cohort doesn’t get the chance to build locally, it could have irreversible impacts on rural communities.
“Schools are losing teachers, GAA teams are unable to field a team, young people can’t get back.”
Galway councillor Joe Byrne, who also works as a Construction Management Consultant, echoed these sentiments.
“The question we need to ask ourselves is; do we want to sustain rural communities, or do we want to see our national schools closed and rural communities shut down?”
It’s often been argued that one-off houses are not environmentally friendly, but the Gort-Kinvara politician says he “doesn’t buy it”.
“Look at the development of wastewater treatment these days.”
“Technology has meant that there is now wastewater run-off going underground, I simply don’t buy that argument.”
Cllr Byrne advises his constituents and clients to have between €6000 and €10,000 available to cover the cost of applying. He says many have to apply a number of times, at a growing cost.
Joe believes that if applicants received more guidance from the council before submitting their plans, fewer applications would get refused – saving the applicant time and money.
“In Galway for the past six to eight months, there’s been no pre-planning meetings. This is hugely difficult for applicants because under legislation pre-planning meetings are required.”
He said that’s leading to significant uncertainty among hopefuls.
“Over development” - meaning there are already too many properties in a rural area - is another reason many are receiving rejections from their local council.
But Clare-based planning consultant Andrew Hersey says empty holiday homes are stopping locals from getting planning permission in his locality.
“We need more people living in the West of Ireland, but we don’t need more holiday homes.”
He said there are dozens of houses near the coast that sit in darkness for the majority of the year.
“Those holiday homes are not contributing to the rural area.”
The Rural Housing Guidelines, which were due to be published in the first quarter of this year, are expected to be released in October.
It's hoped the new rules will shed some light on the future of one-off houses.