LIMERICK County Council has insisted that a new document advising where and how to build houses in rural areas is “designed to advise” locals, and is not something “to get your ass kicked over”.
The council’s new design guide for once-off rural houses, which was published last week, describes itself as a “common source of information and guidance” on what planners want to see in the size, location and design of new homes.
However members of the council’s planning committee, who were presented with the document at a meeting in County Hall, have expressed fears that its contents are complicated and potentially restrictive.
The document divides the county into ten subsections, such as the western hills, Shannon Estuary and Ballyhoura/Slieve Reagh, and outlines how the council wants to see new houses built in each area.
For example, new developments close to the estuary “would be limited to single storey buildings”, while in hilly areas of West Limerick houses should be “site specific designs” that integrate and do not disrupt the “sensitive landscape”.
Planning restrictions will continue to be in force around Lough Gur and Tory Hill.
Gerry Sheeran, acting director of services for planning, said that the new document is “designed to advise” locals, planners, architects and councillors and is based on a template currently in place for Cork County Council.
However Tony O’Shea, a member of the planning committee representing the construction sector, said that there is a danger that design guidelines will be something “to get your ass kicked over”.
Cllr Noel Gleeson said that he has “a fierce problem” with parts of the booklet, which he thinks “should be a little more clear cut”.
He added that today, planners “want all the houses on the roadside”, and they should “go back to rural tradition” of houses set back on long driveways. Cllr Mary Jackman said that locals should be offered greater pre-planning assistance “before you get your plans drawn up”, as it “costs a fortune” to engage with architects again, particularly if a design needs to be re-drawn or reviewed.
Cllr Kevin Sheahan objected to the document being called ‘guidelines’, and proposed that it be amended and called ‘advice’, on the basis that guidelines could be interpreted too many different ways.
He said that simple housing design solutions, such as drainage from road fronts to the rear of sites, have been neglected and have “created a situation that fosters water logging”, while non-native evergreen trees which are being planted on sites across the county are “a health hazard... for people with chest complaints”.
Patti O’Neill, representing environmental interests, said that materials used in building local houses in the past, such as lime-based mortars and renders, were more sympathetic to the local environment and should form a requirement for new houses in certain circumstances.
However Cllr Stephen Keary said that asking people to replicate old housing designs and methods are “novel ideas” and “almost impossible” in reality. “It’s not always achievable to replicate old buildings ... unless you go to extreme expense”.
Cllr Mary Harty said that issuing new guidelines now is akin to “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”, but were nonetheless welcome. She said that it is important for houses to be “sympathetic” to their site, as opposed to “getting hung up on design”.
Mr Sheeran said that pre-planning services continue to be available to applicants, and that the guidelines are not restrictions.
He said that they are in place to give locals an understanding of what kind of new houses will be suitable in rural Limerick.