The NSS - Rural Development and Rural Settlement

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1 The NSS - Rural Development and Rural Settlement Spatial Planning Unit, Department of the Environment and Local Government, February 2003

2 Introduction. This paper has three main parts that outline: (1) the overall approach of the National Spatial Strategy in terms of rural development, (2) the NSS rural settlement policy framework, (3) future steps in strengthening the NSS policy framework. Part 1: NSS Overall Approach to Rural Development The NSS is first and foremost a framework within which to achieve more balanced regional development. Discussions about individual issues need to be set against this context. Balanced regional development is an objective today because of the emergence of a new socio-economic geography and issues such as congestion that have arisen as a result. Employment growth has occurred throughout the country but is much stronger in some areas than others. The strength of the larger urban areas such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick/Shannon, Galway and Waterford and the preference of foreign direct investment to locate in or near such areas have been key driver of the new geography. So too has been a fall in direct employment in agriculture. This new geography will need a framework to both establish a better national spatial structure and deal with issues such as congestion. Through the NSS, it will be possible to sustain into the future: a better quality of life for people, a strong, competitive economic position and an environment of the highest quality.

3 At a conceptual level, there are five interrelated elements to the future spatial structure of Ireland: a strong and internationally competitive Greater Dublin Area driving both its own economy and national development strategically placed, national scale urban areas, acting as gateways, which individually and in combination will be key elements for delivering a more spatially balanced Ireland and driving development in their own regions strategic medium to larger sized towns as hubs linked to the gateways, in turn reaching out to more rural parts a strengthened county and large to medium sized town structure diversified and vibrant rural communities, which contribute to and benefit from the development of larger centres such as gateways and hubs. The NSS works from the view that balanced regional development and the future of the regions as well as rural areas, will increasingly depend on: (i) (ii) building up the urban structure to act as a driver for development in associated regions and, unlocking the potential of rural resources building on local strengths in tourism, agriculture, enterprise, local services, land and marine based natural resources and with rural towns and villages assuming increased importance as local economic engines. What needs to happen in rural areas. Strengthening the Rural Economy Traditional rural based sectors of employment in agriculture, forestry and fishing, will continue to be the primary base of strong and diversified rural economies which in turn will help to retain rural populations. The particular issues for different places include: Securing the types of agriculture that are strong and viable. Diversification of rural employment options and stabilising population through

4 Resource based development in sectors such as forestry, fishing, marine and natural resources. Tourism development through quality and market responsive products, enhanced access and co-ordinated promotion of tourism, which offers a range of complementary visitor experiences. Strengthening towns and villages so that they attain a threshold in terms of labour supply, skills and infrastructure capable of sustaining employment in enterprise and services. Strengthening Communities The strength and integrity of many rural communities is under stress as a result of declining population. In other areas rural populations are increasing in the open countryside while community life in some villages and small towns declines as long distance commuting grows in areas within range of the main cities and towns. These trends may not be in the best interests of either urban or rural communities Alternatives to underpin the future vitality of rural communities are essential. If we are to retain a substantial proportion of our population in rural areas it will be necessary to support rural communities and the services they require. To secure and strengthen rural communities the spatial strategy calls for two main types of responses: Settlement Policies that take into account varying rural development contexts. Appropriate policies are needed for different areas whose circumstances range from those with declining populations to those in which there are overspill issues associated with their proximity to large cities and towns. Such policies can strengthen rural communities by creating conditions for enhancing rural populations. Enhanced accessibility in support of integrated settlement policies can breathe new life into rural communities. Strengthening Environmental Qualities Rural areas have some of the most important national resources in terms of the natural environment. The sensitive development and conservation of these resources

5 is essential to the underpinning of both strengthened rural economies and the national economy. The resources include: Agricultural land for high quality food production. Water resources of high quality including our rivers, lakes, groundwater and the seas that surround Ireland. Forestry which yields timber and timber products, not only economically valuable in themselves but which make a contribution to tackling global warming. A green landscape, the attractiveness and integrity of which are central to Ireland s tourism industry. Part 2: The NSS and Rural Settlement The NSS holds that housing is a key requirement to support a good quality of life and a strong economy. How we locate housing relative to other activities like employment, services and transport etc. is critical to good spatial policy and a strong and balanced economy. In approaching rural issues the strategy takes account of the multi-dimensional nature of our rural areas. The many different types of rural areas that we have in Ireland are due to a complex interplay of a range of factors, physical, social, economic, cultural and historical. Today, the processes of change are increasingly dependent on: (1) the role and likely future structure of agriculture, (2) the degree to which the rural economy is diversifying, (3) the closeness of rural areas to or their remoteness from major urban areas and (4) endowments of natural resources such as high amenity landscapes. Therefore, the contrasts within rural Ireland today are considerable. In some areas, close to the main cities, important transport arteries or in certain scenic areas, pressure for new development is considerable. In other rural areas, population levels continue to fall, particularly in areas with few towns as compared to areas with a more developed urban structure.

6 Therefore, in framing any overall national spatial policy in terms of where rural areas fit into the question of settlement policy, a one size fits all approach will not work. The Strategy supports sustainable rural settlement. Taking that as its starting point the Strategy sets out a rural housing settlement framework which has 4 objectives (1) To sustain and renew established rural communities in a way that responds to the various spatial, structural and economic changes taking place, while protecting the important assets rural areas possess. (2) To strengthen the established structure of villages and smaller settlements both to support local economies and to accommodate additional population in a way that supports the viability of public transport and local infrastructure and services such as schools and water services. (3) To ensure that key assets in rural areas are protected to support quality of life and economic vitality. (4) To ensure that rural settlement policies take account of and are appropriate to the differing local circumstances in different areas. In seeking to meet these objectives the NSS draws a distinction between Rural generated housing i.e. housing needed in rural areas within the established rural community by persons working in rural areas or in nearby urban areas, and Urban generated housing i.e. housing in rural locations sought by people living and working in urban areas, including second homes. Development plan policies need to be tailored to address the different development issues that arise in relation to these different categories of rural housing demand. Rural generated housing needs arise for persons who are an intrinsic part of the rural community by way of background or the fact that they work full-time or part-time in rural areas. As a general principle, subject to good planning practice in matters of location, siting, design and the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and areas of high landscape value, rural generated housing needs should be

7 accommodated in the areas where they arise. In addition, measures should be adopted by planning authorities that ensure that the provision of new housing is targeted to meet rural housing needs. This might include permitting new housing in rural areas subject to conditions that such housing be occupied by established members of the rural community. In relation to urban generated housing the NSS takes the view that development driven by cities and towns should take place in their built areas or by way of planned extension to the built up area. However, for those seeking a rural lifestyle, while working in a larger city or town, smaller towns and villages can cater for this type of housing demand in a sustainable manner. The Strategy goes on to outline how these policies need to be further developed to respond to the different circumstances in four broad types of rural area i.e. Housing in rural areas under strong urban influences. In rural areas within commuting range of cities and larger towns development of urban generated housing in the open countryside is increasing rapidly. The extent of the commuting catchment varies from town to town, with the larger cities and towns tending to have the more extensive catchments. There are various reasons behind the trends evident in these areas, including housing affordability, perceptions regarding quality of life in urban areas and inadequate support for sustainable urban development under past land use policies. If present trends continue at their current scale there will be an increasing environmental impacts in terms of additional car dependent commuting and impacts on the character of the rural areas concerned that will tend to undermine the viability of normal farming activities in those areas. To deal with these residential development trends, development plans must include measures to improve the attractiveness of towns and villages, with a view to promoting improved housing supply, affordability and design quality in those towns and villages. As stated above in relation to urban generated housing, development driven by cities and larger towns should take place within their built up areas or on lands identified, through the development plan process, for integrated, serviced and

8 sustainable development. Well-planned development that extends urban areas to cater for new residential, commercial or other development, should not be prejudiced by prior, uncoordinated and ad hoc development of an excessive amount of single houses. Housing in rural areas with a traditionally strong agricultural base. Many parts of the Midlands, the Border, the South East, the South and South West, traditionally have had a strong agricultural base that gave rise to an extensive network of smaller rural towns, villages and other settlements. This network of smaller towns and villages represents an important resource with much potential for additional development and population. Such smaller settlements can cater for the preference of people for a rural based lifestyle, while working in nearby areas, taking pressure off development in the open countryside. Additional development would also help to support the viability of various services. However, the potential for development in smaller towns and villages needs to be unlocked with the support of public and private investment in essential infrastructure to enhance their attractiveness. County development plans therefore need to recognise the resource that is the rural village and small town. Such plans should promote policies that incorporate a presumption in favour of appropriate development in villages and small towns, together with specific and practical measures in terms of providing serviced land and improved amenities that support and encourage the development of these towns and villages. Residential development in structurally weak rural areas. The weaker agricultural base and the weak urban structure in other parts of the border, midlands and in the west have led to population and economic decline. These areas are generally distant from major urban areas and the associated pressure for residential development. In general, the NSS takes the view that any demand for permanent residential development in these areas should be accommodated as it arises, subject to good practice in matters such as design, location and protection of landscape and environmentally sensitive areas. This will obviously take into account normal development control issues such as traffic safety, water quality, landscape quality and other day-to-day issues.

9 However, the long-term answer to strengthening structurally weak areas requires the strengthening of the structure of villages and towns in these areas through the development plan process. Measures to be considered include public and private investment in the provision of water services, in-fill and new development opportunities, design frameworks, and the provision of sites in villages and smaller towns. Catering for housing development in areas with distinctive settlement patterns In some western seaboard areas, notably in Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and West Cork, distinctive settlement patterns have evolved in the form of small clusters of housing. There is a need to recognise this distinctiveness, while at the same time protecting valuable landscape resources and reinforcing rural communities. This can be achieved by seeking to address, within the development plan process, the extent to which existing clusters can be strengthened through appropriately scaled in-fill development and avoiding linear or ribbon development. At the same time, it will be important to safeguard key resources, such as landscape and habitats. Second Homes and Holiday Home Development Well-located and appropriately scaled second-home and holiday home development can, in appropriate circumstances, act as a revitalising force in economic terms, particularly in areas that are structurally weak, but a particular emphasis is needed on clustering such tourism driven development in or adjoining small towns and villages. Second home and holiday home type development can raise concerns regarding long-term sustainability, effects on the affordability of housing in rural areas for permanent rural dwellers and the incremental effect on the character of some smaller towns and villages where large-scale holiday home type development has taken place. In addressing this issue, development plans need to seek a balance between supporting a well-diversified rural economy and the protection of the environmental assets that attract visitors to an area.

10 Part 3: Where do we go from here? The NSS is an overall national level policy framework. Regional planning guidelines and development plans will now need to be put in place that take the overall NSS policy framework and apply it to the particular circumstances of local areas. As part of the implementation of the NSS, Regional Planning Guidelines are to be prepared for the first time across the country both to give effect to the NSS as a vital implementation arm and provide a better strategic context for the county development plan system. At the county level, the County Development Plans also need to set out a rural settlement framework that takes account both local conditions and then applies the NSS rural settlement framework. A key issue here is identifying the different types of rural areas in terms of stronger and weaker areas using the appropriate socioeconomic and planning analyses. In terms of practical day-to-day issues, the Department of the Environment and Local Government also intends to prepare rural housing guidelines in the coming year focusing on a variety of issues. Such issues may include best practice matters such as siting and design, approaches to different categories of development, mechanisms such as conditions to ensure that permitted rural generated housing is developed and occupied by established members of the rural community as well as other matters. The outcomes of events such as the highly useful conference today will provide an invaluable input into the process of preparing such guidelines. Thank You END

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