From Anne Lucey - Irish Times Wednesday July 29th

Kerry landscape damaged by rural houses, admits council

THE COUNTRYSIDE in Co Kerry has been damaged significantly by the proliferation of one-off houses, Kerry County Council has acknowledged in new guidelines it has published to protect the remaining landscape. Foreign tourists have commented widely upon the damage, according to a new booklet issued by the council for applicants looking for planning permission for rural houses.

More than half of the houses in Kerry, or 34,000 of 66,000, are in the countryside. About half the permanent population live in rural areas. However, houses are not integrated into the landscape, especially in areas where the landscape was exposed and barren, the guidelines state.

“It is clearly evident from travelling around the county that significant damage has already been done to the landscape ,” the introduction by senior planning engineer Paul Stack says.

The damage by scattered houses had been commented widely upon by tourists who nevertheless still saw the Kerry countryside as beautiful and spectacular, Mr Stack writes.

“We should heed the warning and address the integration issue going forward,” the introduction to the guidelines continues. The landscape in Kerry could only accommodate a certain number of houses before irreversible damage was done to the landscape and water sources, it warned.

A meeting of Kerry County Council, however, has heard a call for a loosening up of the planning permissions in north Kerry.

Sinn Féin Listowel area councillor Robert Beasley said people wishing to build in rural areas were being told by the council to go instead to nearby towns or villages. Planning regulations were making it “almost impossible for people to build in rural areas”, he said.

Councillors across the board are calling for a loosening of the planning system to extend planning permissions to landowners for rural houses to help create jobs in rural areas in the downturn.