‘One of the only ways I could build on my own land is to be working full-time in agriculture, which is not feasible’
It sounds simple enough. Your parents own land where they have lived and have farmed for decades, and you want to build a house there so you can stay in the community.
Isn’t that what the rural communities need; new generations to keep the economy alive?
Well unfortunately, if you happen to live in the vicinity of a heritage site in Louth or Meath, you could be looking at a point-blank refusal for planning permission.
“I want to build a house with my partner where my family has lived for over 20 years in Balgathern, near the Hill of Rath,” explains Luke Corr.
“But because this lies within an exclusion zone around Newgrange, we’re told we can’t build a house. I’ve stood in the field in all sorts of weather with a pair of binoculars, and I’ve never managed to even see Newgrange!”
Indeed, Newgrange and its heritage site is some 10km away from where Luke and his partner want to settle, and he is now looking to ‘Rewrite Zone 6’, the strict guidelines drawn up by Louth and Meath County Councils to prevent develop on these lands.
“Protecting these sites is understandable to prevent eyesores and urban sprawl, but at the expense of locals, even if we qualify for local needs.” adds Luke.
“It is so frustrating and it’s well intentioned, but there won’t be a community left soon if the rules are not relaxed. There’ll be no one left to attend the schools or support the shops or local businesses.”
A woman whose parents have lived near the round towers and high crosses in Monasterboice says she is feeling particularly discriminated against because of some of the exemptions.
“My family have worked these fields for over 30 years, and one of the only ways I could build on my own land is to be working full-time in agriculture, which let’s be honest, not many women do in this day and age, and I certainly don’t want to,” she said.
“The communities around here are dying, and these laws are eliminating a lot of young people who want to live here. I grew up here and I want my children to grow up here, and I want to live near my parents – it’s not too much to ask.”
As well as having your main source of income from agriculture, another way to bypass the rules is to look after parents full time, but neither resident thinks this is a good reason.
“It would be disingenuous for a start, as neither of them needs looking after!” says Luke. “I wouldn’t want to get permission by deceit anyway, and yet that is what the councils are pushing people into with these stipulations. It would be better to be done honestly. I have looked all over the country, and every other local authority seems to be able to deal with heritage and planning, so I can’t see why here is so different. We all want to protect our heritage, but we have to look after people in our communities too.”
Cllr Frank Godfrey is empathetic to their cause, and has tabled a motion with Louth County Council, however, he says the residents will not be happy with the response.
“I support those affected by this rule, as it just doesn’s add up,” he told the Drogheda Independent.
“Some of these young people have moved away or emigrated, and want to live in their own communities. We have a housing crisis, and people need to build their own houses, especially in their own communities, on their own land.”
In response to his motion about changing the Zone 6 law, he was told the policy had been adopted by the members in 2015 “in recognition of the outstanding value of the heritage site at Brú na Bóinne and the site at Monasterboice, seeking to protect the integrity and authenticity of vulnerable heritage and cultural landscape”.
“As such, any proposal change would require a variation of the Louth County Development Plan,” it stated.
“This will not be good news for those who want to have the policy changed, as it seems they are not for budging on,” adds the Mayor of Drogheda.
“The most annoying thing is they are penalising people when they are not even looking after the crosses, which makes a farce of the whole thing.
“We should be putting people before monuments, and I feel the locals are being discriminated against with this zoning.”
Luke Corr and others affected by the Zone 6 legislation have started a petition asking for revision of, what they call, ‘the unfair and unjust legislation put in place by Louth County Councillors in the Louth Development Plan’.
They are hoping to persuade the local representatives to re-write and amend the legislation of Zone 6 to allow local rural dwellers to be granted planning permission for oneoff dwellings. Concerned residents of the zones attended a recent meeting ito get details of the issues and hear how changes could make a difference to families and the community.
“There is a clear discrimination against these local dwellers,” explains Luke, who is trying to build a oneoff house on family land on the Hill of Rath. “In a time where there is a housing shortage; locals who qualify for local needs should be permitted to build one-off housing”.