An Taisce has long voiced concerns as to the ongoing suburbanisation of rural Ireland and the resulting decline of rural towns and villages. The evidence clearly shows that the highly dispersed settlement patterns that have been allowed to take hold are extremely costly and have stored up significant social, economic and environmental problems that are to the long-term detriment of rural communities and the rural economy.
In our submission to the National Spatial Strategy in 2001, An Taisce argued that in the absence of clear, proactive policies to support small rural towns and villages and prevent 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, while it is now impossible to undo the mistakes of the past, An Taisce will continue to advocate a vision for settlement patterns in rural Ireland - an alternative for creating and maintaining sustainable and thriving rural communities - based on five core principles. 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.
For the purpose of this short document, we have defined rural Ireland as areas outside larger towns and cities. 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, we believe the following 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.