LOCAL authorities have dezoned enough land to build more than 500,000 homes in a radical shake-up of the planning system.
The move to ban development on 15,000 hectares of land has wiped hundreds of millions of euro from its value, with much of it unlikely to ever be built on.
The land has been dezoned back to agricultural use, or classed as unsuitable for housing, after the Government last year ordered city and county councils to make new plans setting out how their areas would be developed.
Building on a further 13,000 hectares has been banned until at least 2019. While it will retain its housing zoning, it is, in effect, sterile.
The extent of the dezoning is part of changes to the planning system to avoid the mistakes of the past, where housing was built outside of town centres, with few public facilities.
Many of these developments are now classed as ghost estates, with more than half the 1,700 in the country now in a "seriously problematic condition" and requiring urgent works.
New figures obtained by the Irish Independent show that 33 of the country's 34 local authorities have dezoned or banned development on lands.
Only Westmeath County Council has yet to complete the process, which will be carried out next year during a five-year review of its development plan.
The figures, from the Department of the Environment, reveal that:
• In 2010, some 44,000 hectares of land was zoned residential – enough to build 1.4 million homes. However, just 12,000 hectares were needed, enough for 420,000 units.
• Today, 12,000 hectares is zoned and earmarked for development. Another 13,000 retains its zoning, but cannot be built upon for another decade. This would accommodate another 455,000 homes.
• Building is banned on most of the remaining 19,000 hectares.
• Some authorities have reduced their landbanks by half. For instance, in June 2010, Clare had 3,477 hectares zoned for housing. It now has 1,841.
• Donegal had 2,806 hectares, and now has 1,362, while Kildare reduced its landbank from 1,456 to 1,180 hectares.
The dezoning will see site values plummeting, many of which were bought with €8bn-worth of loans from the bailed-out banks. These loans have been substantially written-down since by as much as 90pc.
In 2007, an acre of residential land outside the main cities could cost €750,000. It is likely to be worth around €10,000 per acre today.
Under the planning acts, landowners have no right to compensation if their land is rezoned. Despite this, legal challenges are likely.
Housing and planning minister Jan O'Sullivan said the dezoning was needed to restore confidence in the planning system.
She said she would use her powers under the planning acts to ensure that councils did not overzone. "It's tidying up the legacy issue," she told the Irish Independent.
"We have to alter the zoning. This is a legacy of the Celtic Tiger era and the growth of the property industry, which flopped and brought a lot of people down.
"There is a focus now on developing and prioritising the town centres. My job is to ensure the common good rules in all this."
Councillors, who are responsible for zoning land, will undergo training and education courses run by the Irish Planning Institute next year.