In a speech last weekend, the Minister for the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley, attacked those councils still seeking to zone land for development.  Gormley said that the new Planning Bill, ‘will put an end to the sort of unfettered and irresponsible rezonings that were a feature of political life.’ The Bill can’t come soon enough, although it’ll arrive long after the horse has bolted.  As noted on this blog and elsewhere, we are already living with the legacy of over-zoning and over-building.

The table below details the amount of zoned, serviced residential land in the country in June 2008, as reported by the Department of Environment (Latest House Building and Private Rented Statistics; Supply of Housing Land).  At that time, there was 14,191 hectares of land zoned for 462,709 potential new units.  To put the data in context, we’ve also noted the vacancy rate (excluding holiday homes) in 2006; calculated the percentage of zoned units to existing residential units; and provided a calculation as to how long that zoned land would last if it were to cater for household growth at the same rate as the period 1996-2006 (which would have been the conditions under which most of the land was zoned).  Note that the latter calculation takes no account of the existing overhang (which is substantial in some counties), potential holiday home demand or obsolescence.

Whilst some counties have a relatively small bank of zoned land, others have zoned vast hectares of land far in excess of any kind of reasonable expectation of short to medium term demand.  Whilst the Planning Bill might put an end to future ‘unfettered and irresponsible rezonings’, the question as to what to do with existing zoned land remains given that large proportions of it will not be required any time soon, it will contribute to further depressing land values, and some of it is presumably heading to NAMA.  Some counties such as Waterford have already muted dezoning and it’ll be interesting to see if other counties follow suit or if pressure by land owners and vested interests works to keep existing land holdings zoned for the foreseeable future.