Getting Planning Permission in Mayo…

Obtaining a planning permission for a new house or significant refurbishment/extension in County Mayo is becoming increasingly problematic, the purpose of this article is to simplify what the planners and engineers at the Council are looking for in order to speed up your application and for you not to waste time and money on unsuccessful designs:

A successful house planning application can be divided into four key areas:

1. Housing need
2. Road Safety
3. Hygiene
4. Design

1. Housing need

You are now only able to build one-off houses in rural areas under strong urban influence if you fulfill specific requirements regarding housing need. The first port of call therefore if you do not fulfill the following criteria is a visit to the planning office and ask whether your site is within the area deemed ‘under strong urban influence.

The criteria is therefore as follows:

a. Have you spent a substantial period of your life, living in the area ?
This refers to:

i. Farmers, their sons daughters and/or anyone taking over the ownership and running of the family farm

ii. Sons & daughters of non-farming persons who have spent at least 5 years living in the area AND wish to build within 5km (3 miles) of the family residence

iii. Returning emigrants who had spent at least 5 years living in the area in which they propose to build. These can include those wishing to reside near other family members, carers for elderly immediate family members, working locally, retiring.

Once you have fulfilled the criteria the council can also impose an occupancy condition restricting the sale of the property to a period following occupation.

2. Road Safety

You need to be able to safely enter and exit any new road entrance to your house; the diagram below shows the required, typical single recessed entrance that allows you adequate visibility to the left and right of the entrance. Note the set backs required in order to gain the required visibility without edging the nose of the car into the road.

As well as being able to pull out onto the road you will obviously need to be able to have sufficient visibility up and down the road. The diagram below shows how the visibility standards; the sight distance (Y) is based on the maximum speed limit of the road.

Visibility diagram

Visibility splay diagram

It is important to note that these diagrams are not hard and fast rules – I would recommend personally meeting the highways engineer on your planning application if a problem arises however.

3. Hygiene

Single houses without mains drainage must now satisfy the minimum requirements set out in the revised EPA manual (previously the regulations were from NSAI SR6 1991). The testing procedures are now much more vigorous and can involve many more test and trial holes than previous.

The photo below shows the depth of the current EPA report, Mayo requires:

EPA Report

Recent Site Characterisation report prepared for planning application

4. Design

The council’s duty is to protect the amenities of the county; these amenities come in the form of visual obtrusiveness, sound, smell, road hazards etc… Therefore the design of your house needs to be acceptable to the council. The problem arises with the current planning system in that you are reliant on pleasing effectively only a single planner in order to obtain your planning permission. It is therefore essential to employ a designer committed to good design; this where a registered architect comes into play – you can check whether your architect is registered by visiting The title of ‘Architect’ is now legally defined in Ireland and it is an offence under the Building Control Act to call yourself an architect when not registered in this jurisdiction.

Mayo County Council has produced an excellent guide in the design of one-off rural houses (they same principles would also apply to extensions), click here for the Rural Housing Guidelines

It is important to note a very important paragraph in these guidelines:


This is a key paragraph as it means (effectively) that designs will fall into two separate camps:

Design Type 1 – Traditional

Here you are adapting the traditional short plan formats of the traditional cottage; larger houses are created by breaking down the mass into smaller, narrow depth plan elements. You are therefore looking at a front to back depth (from eaves to eaves) of approximately 7metres.

Careful attention is required when designing your windows and doors; windows for example look better when more vertical than horizontal and adopting the golden section proportions of width to height.

It is therefore essential to read and understand these rural housing guidelines as they will form the basis of the majority of house planning applications. Another excellent publication (which I guess the Mayo design guide was based on was the Cork Design Guide – Click here to purchase from Amazon

Photo 1 shows a new house (currently under construction) that conforms well to the design guidelines.

Traditional shallow plan cottage

Photo 1: Conforming to guidelines

The key conforming elements are:

* Depth front to back at 7.0m

* No gables extending from the main section of house, fronting the road

* No inappropriate dormers (dormers are acceptable as long as the forming window is an extension of the main wall, rather than wholly within the roof slope.

* Windows follow the golden section formula, luckily for us these also face north so that the reduced size is acceptable.

* The porch and front door design are simple in concept

* Traditional Mayo features and materials such as the concrete barges, white nap render plaster and blue/black natural slate are included

Design Type 2 – Contemporary

The council will accept contemporary designs as long as they fulfill the following criteria:

• Simplicty of Forms
• Natural Finishes that blend with the local landscape
• Careful detailing.
• Reduction of visible scale.

You can for example create a deeper plan (than the 7 metres) by having a low, flat roof plan – even covered in grass as in our house: “A low flat roofed house, if carefully designed, and finished using natural materials such as wood and stone, will have a very low visual impact on the landscape and may allow for a more prominent setting”. You would also be able to make a case for larger amounts of glazing by emphasising the importance of passive solar glazing when increasing glass to the south.

The example below (photo 2) shows our own house, where you have a longer, glazed area that is covered in a grass roof and built underground in order to reduce it’s impact on the environment. The glazed area is also given a vertical emphasis by dividing the totaal length into four sections and then each quarter is again further divided up into four.

Lower, grass roof & contemporary

Photo 2: Contemporary

This contemporary element is linked to a more traditional two storey structure that contains the Mayo features and materials such as the concrete barges, natural, locally sourced stone and blue/black natural slate. My practice is keen on creating contemporary structures but also show a link to the past but without becoming pastiche.

As part of your planning application you may need to demonstrate the extent in considering sustainable options on the reuse of existing structures on the site, namely:

1. Can the house be located next to an existing house on the holding?

2. Can an existing building be renovated?

3. Can the house be located on the footprint of a house or cluster of ruins?

The council also sets out a minimum area and frontage for any site, as follows:

For 1,2 & 3 above, Site area = 2000m2

If 1,2 & 3 cannot be achieved, Site area = 3000m2

So far we have been concerned with single, one-off houses; let’s now turn our attention to the refurbishment, renovation and extension of properties:

It is a common misconception that you will be granted planning permission if the site contains the ruins of a house; the footprint of an old house will be of help but the site will still need to pass the requirements regarding road safety and effluent disposal. Also, any proposed extension will also need to take into account the design guidelines discussed above.

The council will encourage the reconstruction or refurbishment of a derelict dwelling (subject to the above) as an alternative to building a new house. There rules are:

1. The structure must have been a dwelling

2. The external walls must be largely intact.

3. Fulfillment of the housing need criteria (see point 1).

The council will consider the replacement of a habitable house by a new house with the following conditions:

1. The structure was last used as a dwelling

2. External, internal walls and roof are intact

3. Report from suitably qualified person (an architect for example) stating that the dwelling is habitable

4. Documentary evidence of the most recent date of occupation, utility bills for example

5. Fulfillment of the housing need criteria (see point 1)


The information given here is not exhaustive as the Development Plan covers hundreds of pages with additional detail on houses in coastal and high scenic amenity areas for example. Hopefully however it has given a starting point for you to plan a strategy for your planning application.

The conclusion I draw from the Development Plan is that if planning is difficult (for whatever reason) the following may give a route to a successful planning application:

1. Refurbish and/or extend an existing habitable house

2. When buying any older property for refurbishment/extension, make sure it’s habitable and has a working septic tank

3. Employ an architect

This blog post is for information only and does not constitute legal or architectural advice, each planning case is treated individually on its merits. e&oe