Call to scrap ‘locals only’ clause on planning permission

A call has been made to scrap a ‘locals only’ rule relating to the building of one-off houses in rural areas following a ruling by the European Court of Justice that it is discriminatory and illegal.

Though the EU ruled as far back as 2013 on the freedom of movement of its citizens throughout Europe, many local authorities, including Galway County Council haven’t changed their planning guidelines.

This week at a specially convened council meeting to discuss planning, councillors passed a motion calling on the Minister for Housing and Planning, Simon Coveney to immediately implement guidelines in keeping with the EU ruling.

Councillor Jim Cuddy, who proposed the motion (seconded by Cllr Tom Welby) was very annoyed that his own council executive hadn’t informed them of an EU ruling.

He said the Department of the Environment had known for years about the infringement yet allowed councillors to adopt the County Development Plan for Galway in 2014 – a year after the ruling.

Basically, the ruling states that EU citizens and their families should be able to move freely and reside anywhere in member states.

Councillors this week complained that applicants couldn’t move from parish to parish or even a few miles away from their family home to build because of a condition where applicants have to prove their intrinsic link or family ties to an area – or that they have resided there for a period of seven years.

Cllr Noel Thomas challenged the seven year rule as did a number of others – some stressing that in parts of rural Galway there weren’t places to rent where people could even try to start setting down roots for any length of time to meet that condition.

Cllr Cuddy also questioned why councillors weren’t informed either of a more recent circular from the Department last November on the Minister’s proposal to engage with local authorities on how best to interpret this EU ruling.

“Are we to be left in the dark again? We have to stop codding ourselves and realise that’s it’s the Department interpreting EU rulings and not us, though it is already clear we are in breach of the EU treaty.

“I am asking for clarity on that ruling and how it applies to us. Every Local Authority has its own issues. One cap won’t suit all so I want to know how soon the Minister is going to engage with us,” he added.

Catherine McConnell, Acting Director of Services for Planning, said that current guidelines would remain until the Department issued new ones to take on board the implications of the EU ruling on freedom of movement. She said it would take some time as all local authorities had to be consulted.

Cllr Cuddy said he was frustrated that the Department was only acting on this now when the EU had made their ruling a number of years ago. He was equally frustrated that councillors hadn’t been informed much earlier of this, especially prior to them adopting their last County Development Plan.

Chief Executive, Kevin Kelly said that officials were already engaged with the EU to see how the ruling applied in an Irish context and he expected the Department to get back to the Council on the matter.

Cllr Cuddy said this was good enough in light of the current housing crisis and described any further delay in the implementation of changed guidelines as “utter rubbish.”

“Nothing has been done about this since the Government first knew about it but I’m asking for its immediate effect to allow people to build houses at no expense to the Government and in fact will raise money through VAT revenue on building materials,” added Cllr Cuddy.