DECIDING that thousands of hectares of land is no longer suitable for housing has not been an easy process.
Local authorities have spent more than a year re-drawing their city and county development plans to make these landbanks no longer eligible for planning, and there have been hiccups along the way.
Planning minister Jan O'Sullivan has been forced to intervene twice, telling Clare County Council to dezone land for housing because it threatened a protected bat species, and informing Laois County Council that land in Mountmellick on a flood plain was not suitable for new houses or apartments.
Of course, councils should never have zoned more than 40,000 hectares of land for housing. Had it been developed, there would now be 1.4 million extra homes in the State, almost twice the current number.
The fact that there are more than 1,700 unfinished developments across the country in areas far removed from towns and villages is testament to the bad decisions that were taken.
Take Donegal, for example. It had 2,806 hectares zoned for housing, enough for 98,000 new homes, in a county far removed from major centres of population. It now has 1,362 hectares – sufficient for 48,000.
Zoning is a complex process. Permitted uses for land are set out in county and city development plans, which essentially designate five types of zoning: agriculture, amenity and recreational, residential, commercial and industrial.
A residential zoning does not mean only houses and apartments are allowed. Bookies' offices, B&Bs, cemeteries and other uses are also permitted.
Zoning is a function reserved for councillors, but most have never had formal training.
That's set to change next year, when training and education will be provided.
Good practice – and the system being implemented now means that homes should only be built on land close to areas of demand, with the required public services in place.
The thousands of people living in unfinished ghost estates would concur.