An Taisce makes a renewed call on the government to take rural settlement seriously in the upcoming review of the National Spatial Strategy.

An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland, has long voiced concerns as to the ongoing suburbanisation of rural Ireland and the consequent decline of rural towns and villages.

In our submission to the National Spatial Strategy as far back as 2001, An Taisce argued that in the absence of clear, proactive policies to prevent rural sprawl, major cities and their hinterlands would continue to grow disproportionally to the detriment of rural Ireland. Unfortunately, this has proven to be the case and large parts of rural Ireland have been disadvantaged as a result. Despite short-term pressures to increase housing supply, simply building ever more randomly located houses will not reverse this trend. However, today in many counties, dispersed single dwellings often represent the majority of new houses permitted.

The recent report of the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) completely sidesteps the fundamental importance of settlement patterns in achieving balanced regional development. Despite persistent criticism for speaking out on this issue, An Taisce will continue to advocate a vision for settlement patterns in rural Ireland - an alternative vision for creating and maintaining sustainable and thriving rural communities.

With the upcoming review of the National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020, An Taisce has published five principles for sustainable rural settlement:

  1. A strong network of thriving towns and villages is fundamental for rural development.
  2. Scattered housing in unserviced locations should be restricted and instead directed to rural towns and villages.
  3. Implement a 'Serviced Sites Initiative' in rural towns and villages as an alternative to scattered housing.
  4. Rural Ireland is a critical resource for a post-carbon world.
  5. Manage the economic, social and environmental legacy of scattered housing.

None of these principles are radical. In fact, they are all supported by numerous national planning policy documents, which continue to be widely ignored or selectively applied in practice. The evidence clearly shows that the highly dispersed settlement patterns that have been allowed to take hold are extremely costly. They have stored up significant social, economic and environmental problems that are to the long-term detriment of rural communities and the rural economy.

We understand there is no single 'rural Ireland', but a highly heterogeneous space encompassing suburbanised commuter regions which are under severe development pressures and more remote regions which are experiencing long-term population decline. However, An Taisce believes that these five principles can be applied in all contexts to create a better and more resilient future for rural communities. In the absence of such principles, rural decline is likely to continue unchecked.

An Taisce is making a renewed call on the government to take rural spatial settlement seriously in the upcoming review of the National Spatial Strategy and curb the costly and piecemeal suburbanisation of the Irish countryside.


For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 2411995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


  1. An Taisce's Principles for Sustainable Rural Settlement January 2015