The Grumpy Old Man

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....Random One-Off Housing....

Is random housing scattered around the countryside socially, economically or environmentally acceptable?

I make no apologies for this but it will be something of a mega grump. I shall look at the possibility of breaking it down into a number of the new grumps on specific topics.

I am very concerned about the amount of house building that has and is still going on around Ireland. A huge proportion of what is already built is grossly underused particularly here on the western seaboard. Twenty years ago when Mrs Grumpy and I first visited Ireland it was beautifully rural and undeveloped. In many places there were huge expanses with little or no buildings in sight. Now the story is completely different. Everywhere you look little white bungalows dot the landscape. To this day neither of us can understand the logic of scattering so many homes around the countryside. From the tourist's point of view, Ireland is supposed to be an unspoiled green and pleasant land. And so it was twenty years ago. In those days the unspoiled aspect was touted as one of the main attractions for visitors and tourists to come to Ireland. To me, it seems incredible that the scale of random single unit dwelling development should ever have been allowed. The scale of development and the number of these bungalows scattered around the countryside only spoils the environment and the views that the tourists come to see. It is unbelievable that the planners have been unable to make this link and see the logic of the argument. Particularly so when tourism is such a major contributor to the national economy. Development on the scale described above can only lead to the ultimate death of the goose that lays the golden egg.

That apart, the provision of today's basic needs such as a potable water supply, electricity, telephone and sewage disposal to service random and widely scattered houses can only increase the cost of all of these modern essentials. I agree that a water supply could be derived from a private well (but at what cost) and sewage disposal could be provided by a private septic tank. On that point, it is interesting to see that now septic tanks here in Ireland have to be registered and inspected for correct operation (by law). The statistics from the few of these inspections that have been completed show some two thirds of tanks are not operating properly and are in danger of polluting water courses and groundwater (and probably the owner's own private well)

These are only the basic services. What about other services such as postal delivery, refuse collection, broadband internet and perhaps even more crucial, the Fire Brigade, Police or Ambulance services. One hopes never to need the final three but when one does need them, it is crucial that they find you rapidly and don't have to go looking round the boondocks for your 'Dunromin'. Even with a house number and street name, Grumpy has personal experience of the problems that can arise when an ambulance couldn't find his house, all because two different properties over a hundred meters apart enjoyed the same postal details!

At first Mrs Grumpy and I wondered if the location for these one-off homes was selected because it gave the occupier peace, quiet and solitude. But as time passed, it was obvious that this was not the case as, once one house had been built in a relatively isolated location, within a couple of years, three or four more houses had been built on adjoining plots, reproducing like mushrooms. We saw a prime example of that in the house we first occupied when we came to Ireland. At that time there were four houses on their own, in a row along a small country lane about a couple of miles from the village. Only one of the other houses was occupied. The others were a dilapidated holiday home that nobody ever seemed to visit (now demolished and rebuilt) and another, only part completed being used as a workshop by a local craftsman. Now there are nine properties in that small area, cheek by jowl, almost as a close knit mini-community. Hardly conducive to peace quiet, solitude and impact on the environment.

Another strange thing we have noticed about the location chosen for the building of houses here in Ireland is the large number that are built directly fronting a busy main road. Apart from the traffic noise that is prevalent on these roads Grumpy is most concerned about the safety of young children and domestic pets living in these homes. And what about the traffic hazard when people pull out of the drives onto the main road?

It is interesting to look at the overall landscape here in Ireland and see it liberally spotted with white bungalows. They really are quite obtrusive, especially when one compares it with the landscape that can be seen around rural England. We frequently watch the BBC programme 'Country File'. It is incredible the difference the lack of bungalows makes to the landscape, even with a population nearly fifteen times greater than that of Ireland!

It is interesting to observe that Ireland is the only country in Europe to allow this random sporadic housing development in open countryside.

So what can be done about this? The main problem as Grumpy sees it is cultural and weak planning laws allowing people to choose locations for their homes that, quite frankly, defy common sense. This attitude prevails in rural Ireland. The ultimate example of this being the number of so-called "ghost estates" that were built in places where there was absolutely no demand for them, now half built with no buyers. Consequently some are now a health and safety hazard and are being demolished. What a waste of time, money, space and all the other resources such as tax incentives that have been poured into these white elephants.

But see also Grump eco7 for some radical solutions to the problem.