“Locals only” does not always apply in Kerry – the county with one of the most stringent planning laws of any county, the councillor Maura Healy-Rae says.

Rural dwellers living in nearby townlands are being refused planning – and people who are not direct family members are being turned down and discouraged even at pre-planning stage, she says.

Rural planning is coming under intense scrutiny after a fellow Killarney councillor revealed the restrictions have been ruled out of order by the European Court of Justice.

In May 2013, the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg found the Flemish decree on land and real estate policy whereby anyone building or buying property had to have “a sufficient connection” to the commune or local area was contrary to European Law.

There had been attempts in Belgium to annul the law, before it was brought to the European Court.

Legal opinion now is that this ruling directly applies to one-off housing restrictions in counties like Kerry.

Maura Healy-Rae who has taken on the mantle of councillor for the Killarney area from her father Danny, the TD, has consistently raised planning issues including the discrepancies she has encountered in the wide Killarney area.

Much of the district is designated ‘urban pressure’ – which means it is utterly restricted – leading to locals being turned down.

“Kerry County Council introduced the ‘intense urban pressure’ clause in specific areas to prevent people from outside the area, people coming out from the town of Killarney or people from outside the county building holiday homes getting planning permission.

“However, the reality is people born and reared in these ‘intense urban pressure’ areas cannot get planning because of the restrictions therefore they are having an adverse impact on local people.”

She maintains the clause is constantly depriving applicants from getting planning permission in rural areas even though they are renting or living in the same area for a number of years.

She refers to two cases – but has six on her books, so to speak.

“There is one couple who have been living in the Headford area for three years. They have permanent jobs within driving distance. They found a site which they were interested in buying.

“I was advised by the Planning Section of Kerry County Council that due to the ‘local area clause’ and because neither was reared in the Headford area they would not be granted planning permission.

“Clearly, in that instance the planning process is depriving people who have proven their intention to reside in the area by renting for a number of years.

“Secondly, a man contacted me who lives in the Muckross area in Killarney which is considered to be under ‘intense urban pressure’. This man was born and reared in the area.

“The house he was reared in and the site he wants to buy from his neighbour are in the same townland and are just 350 metres apart.

“However, I was advised in this case this man would not be considered for planning on this site because he is not a direct family member of his neighbour.

“So in the first case, the couple were told they would be refused planning because they weren’t reared in the Headford area and in the second case this man, despite being from the area, wouldn’t receive planning because he was not a family member of the person who owned the site.

This is clearly a contradiction in planning restrictions for two areas quite close to each other.”

She said the planning laws are contributing to the housing crisis.

“We are all well aware of the housing crisis, but there is no doubt in my mind that restrictive planning laws such as the ‘local area clause’ and the ‘intense urban pressure’ clause are preventing local people in rural areas from getting planning which in turn is adding to the crisis.”

Meanwhile, Killarney Independent councillor Donal Grady who drew management’s attention to the ruling said the development plans will have to be changed “immediately”.

And he fears the council may be sued by applicants who were turned down for planning – or people who wanted to sell sites to get out of financial difficulty.

“The prohibitions are totally illegal,” Cllr Grady said.

The matter came to light following a meeting of Cllr Grady’s independent councillor grouping and he and other councillors have taken legal advice and been told the ruling is applicable in Kerry and other counties, he said.

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