Just 4pc of Ireland is built on – even after the boom

Paul Melia

IRELAND is one of the most undeveloped countries in the EU despite a decade-long building boom.

A new survey from Eurostat says just 4pc of the country is covered in "artificial structures", and we have the highest proportion of grasslands of any country in Europe.

Despite more than 90,000 homes being built per year at the height of the boom and construction of a motorway network and town bypasses, the survey says that Ireland has fewer buildings and roads than our neighbours.

Just 4pc of our land is covered by "artificial areas," compared with a 5pc EU average.

This compares with one-third of Malta, 13pc of Belgium and 12pc of the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The Land Use/Cover Area frame survey (LucasO) was carried out in 2012 and involved 750 surveyors taking measurements at 270,000 points across 27 countries.

It found:

* Just 13pc of Ireland is covered with forest. This compares with more than half of Sweden (76pc), Finland (72pc), Estonia (61pc) and Slovenia (60pc).

* Just 5pc is given over to cropland, compared with an EU average of 25pc.

* More than two-thirds of the country is covered with natural or agricultural grasslands, compared with an average of 20pc – the highest rate in the EU.

* Shrub land and bare land, either dominated by shrubs or low, woody plants or with no dominant vegetation, accounts for a further 4pc.

* Wetlands account for 7pc of our area, compared with 5pc among our neighbours.

Professor Rob Kitchin from the Department of Geography in NUI Maynooth said the data was somewhat limited because it could not be compared with the pre-boom years.

"The data doesn't tell us an awful lot," he said.


"Maybe we've taken up more land, but not necessarily with high-density housing. Dublin grew with Cork and Limerick, but every town in the country grew as well.

"We also had a road-building programme, but we were a low population density country to start with. The sprawl around our cities is about 12 houses per hectare, with two people per house – ten or 20 years ago it would have been four people per house. We have more houses, which take up more space, but there are still a lot of green spaces."

Artificial structures include houses, offices and greenhouses, as well as yards, car parks, cemeteries and roads and rail networks.