I was going to make a foray into the infrastructure forum to start a thread on this topic. I'm glad I was beaten to it as others clearly share my views.
One-off housing in the countryside really irks me. I'll admit that I come at this from a mainly aesthetic concern but I just can't help finding it all so hideous. I also have an interest in this as I live in an area that appears to be at the cross roads between the blight that affects many parts of the Republic and some semblance of a residual planning policy.
Here in the beautiful county of Fermanagh I find myself aghast when peering over the border into probably one of the least planned regions in Western Europe: the Republic's North West. Boy are places like Donegal a sight to behold. It's just shocking. Rural roads are now literally lined with giant pebble dashed monstrosities after stretched yellow bungalows after weird hybrid architectural fantasies that seem to combine the Georgian period, something of a Spanish Hacienda and with a conservatory attached for good measure. It's got really dense now with houses literally cheek by jowel.
Indeed, the density along rural roads in the 'countryside' – stretching unchecked all the way from one village to the next – in places like Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Sligo, etc. is such that one-off housing is becoming something of a misnomer. These aren't isolated standalone houses in some Arcadian paradise, at least not up here in the Republic's northwest; this is now an all out suburbanisation of the countryside. There is just mansion after villa endlessly, and probably about a third of these are holiday homes. Excluding, conserved mountain ranges – and believe me some of the builders/farmers in this neck of the woods would stick a house anywhere if they could get away with it – views that don't contain at least five or more houses have long since become extinct.
Needless to say house design shows no connection with or sympathy for the immediate area or its history; it's all big, bigger still and uber-brash. Not to mention how every property's giant boundary walls are out of all proportion and scale to the little roads they line – who are they trying to keep out… planners? But this is a needless focus on the particular; it’s their collective impact that has devastated the region.
The towns and villages in these parts are a site to behold too. Think 1950s Ireland only even more decrepit and with even more peeling paint. Put simply, with the total lack of planning restrictions, the middle classes have said thanks very much and upped and left. They've taken with them not just their presence but also their money and any chance of a middle class interest in urban renewal. In short, this is a region with sprawled over countryside and sh!thole towns. A nightmare for anyone with an interest in planning and the aesthetics of the built/unbuilt environment.
The only people that seem to have gained in these parts are those that are ironically lauded in the region as the salt of the earth; two bit, greasy till developers and daaysint Bull McCabe type farmers are in a sweat to outdo each other over which can grow and harvest the most houses. Developers get to do housing parks on the cheap – they just use the existing roads – while charging a premium for a supposed rural house; with the decline of agriculture sites are the new cash crop of the small farmer.
Why am I concerned about all this? Well it seems to be a tidal wave that's unlikely to stop at the border. Despite Fermanagh being a gem of a rural county with still much unspoilt countryside, the locals are green – hah, there's a laugh as you'll not find much of that colour over the border in years to come – with envy at the free for all next door. Most have already built themselves 'one-off' houses in Donegal and now want to live permanently in one somewhere amongst the hills and dales of Fermanagh – which ironically means the end of the hills and dales.
Indeed, some of the more nationalists peeps here have remonstrated that our 'alien' and restrictive rural planning laws are yet another Brit imposition and a denial of our Irishness. Was bungalow blitz really in the proclamation? Anyway, accordingly the authorities here have acquiesced and there's now a slow but steady war of attrition between the cement mixer and the green hills of this soon to be destroyed lakeland paradise. I see plans for a national park across the county have been quietly dropped.
I suppose there might be a sociological observation lurking somewhere in all this. Is it possible that Irish people have some perverse, deep seated hatred for both towns and
the countryside? Or is that too harsh a judgement on their willingness to leave the former to crumble into the ground while pouring concrete over the latter?
Sorry, couldn't help a rant. This whole thing is maddening.
I guess we'll be taking our kids on holidays to England, Scotland and Wales… hell, maybe even Holland
and Germany, in decades to come so that they can have at least a fleeting glimpse of what countryside looks like.