Saturday 24 March 2018

Councillors have zoned enough land to build almost 414,000 homes - so what's the delay?

Paul Meila and Philip Ryan

Councillors have zoned enough land to build almost 414,000 homes, more than five times the amount needed to meet demand until 2019.

Data from the Department of the Environment shows that almost 2,700 hectares of land is zoned in Dublin, sufficient for 116,705 houses and apartments, with another 14,780 hectares across the county which could accommodate another 298,000 units.

While the vast bulk of the land is available for immediate development, councils have adopted strict new planning policies which mean they can only develop sites on a priority basis, or close to built-up areas.

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This is part of a major redrawing of the planning system which obliged local authorities to implement so-called "core strategies" to avoid a repeat of recent mistakes which resulted in thousands of ghost estates being built in unsuitable locations.

The data, which is available in the interactive map below, will be used to plan the communities of the future and will be set against information from the Housing Agency which says some 80,000 units are needed in our urban centres between now and the end of 2018.

Interactive Map

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The Government also plans a €3.5bn social housing programme designed to deliver another 3,500 homes, and it is intended that most new housing will be built in areas with essential public services including water, transport, schools and healthcare centres.

But some counties have far more land zoned than will be required, often at some distance from urban areas. The Irish Independent can reveal:

• The Housing Agency says there is a 'minimum' requirement for 79,660 homes in our urban areas, but some 17,434 hectares of land is zoned and serviced - enough for 414,712 units.

• There is no demand for new housing in Leitrim and Longford - other counties with a large amount of zoned land despite low demand are Roscommon, where just 1.5pc of zoned land is needed; Limerick County (3.7pc) and Waterford County (4.2pc).

• But there's a shortage of suitable land in Dublin City (111pc) and Cork City (127pc) where demand exceeds supply. Louth also has a potential land shortage, with 95.1pc of zoned land needed.

• Of the 272 urban areas studied by the Housing Agency, there is no demand for homes in 73, or 26pc.

• In Roscommon, there is only demand in Roscommon town were 139 homes are needed. There's enough land for 66 times this amount.

• Five new towns are identified in Dublin to provide new homes, all served by public transport including rail and Luas. They are Adamstown, Clonburris, Clongriffin, Carrickmines/Cherrywood and the Docklands.

While the zoned land data does not include derelict sites or land earmarked for mixed-use development, which provides retail, commercial and residential development, it gives an indication of where major developments will take place in the future.

But planners warn that Government will play a major role in providing infrastructure to service these lands, including good public transport links.

Future development in North Dublin is reliant on a mass- transit system like Metro, Luas, DART or Bus Rapid Transit before major development will take place.

A proposed solution is expected to be announced by Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe later this year.

In Donabate, a new road costing €15m is needed to open up lands to provide around 3,000 homes. Water services are needed in Swords, Portmarnock and Malahide, including a new pumping station at a cost of around €3m, which Irish Water says they will supply when needed.

A report from the Dublin Taskforce, set up to examine housing needs in the capital as part of the Government's Construction 2020 strategy, says a minimum of 37,700 homes are required in Dublin over the next five years - or 7,500 per year.

There is a "marked requirement" in Swords, where 1,500 units are required by the end of 2018, and Balbriggan where 900 homes are needed.

The taskforce's first report, obtained by the Irish Independent, says that over 46,000 homes could be delivered in the short term because there is planning permission in place or land available for housing with no major constraints, such as a lack of access or water.

Across the four Dublin local authorities there are almost 13,000 homes "immediately available" for development, and 7,925 apartments, around three years supply. But it warns that some land banks may not be released because owners want to delay selling or developing until prices rise.


"Where land was purchased at peak the cost of new build is still significantly higher than prevailing second-hand prices," it says.

"The pattern of significant land purchases by investment companies may lead to a delay in those lands being released if return on investment is the primary motivation."

Another 25,000 homes are possible in the short term, the report adds, but accessing finance is a major stumbling block.

Sources said there were no "show stoppers" in Dublin to hamper meeting immediate demand, such as a lack of roads or water, but constraints would arise in the future. In particular, developers were reluctant to fund schools, sporting facilities and other communities services which are seen as key in attracting residents.

Planners have also raised concerns about moves to rezone further land. One said: "Pressure is being brought to rezone because people are saying there's not enough land and someone will build 1,000 houses. The knee-jerk reaction to zoning land has to be watched. If you allow housing in fields, where will children go to school? It's not just about zoning housing"

In Dun Laoghaire, the council says many of its planning applications are for apartments, key in a county with a finite amount of land. Dublin City Council said apartment sizes were larger in the city than required under national standards, which added up to €30,000 per unit, but which would provide long-term housing.

The council also wants to attract more families into the city centre. That could be assisted by providing small housing units for older residents in the areas they currently live, which would allow them to downsize and sell their existing homes to growing families.

Irish Independent

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