The Irish Times reports today that a proposal to dezone land in Kerry was subject to a heated council debate yesterday. The county manager and senior planners have proposed to dezone hundreds of acres in mid-Kerry, but were met with resistance from some councillors, with landowners and developers looking on from the gallery. The chief worry was that by dezoning land those that had bought it would be bankrupted (though this is unlikely to happen to those who continued to own land that was zoned whilst in they were in possession of it). Danny Healy-Rae made the interesting observation that “the more land zoned for development, the better. It created competition and brought house prices down.” Existing home owners in Kerry, already in negative equity, might not necessarily see this as a good outcome either, though this is a situation from which there are few winners. There have been similar stories relating to Clare, Waterford and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown in recent months.
As an article in the Irish Independent earlier this month makes clear, the zoning of land over the last number of years has ignored: good planning guidelines and regional and national objectives; sensible demographic profiling of potential demand; and the absence of essential services such as water and sewerage treatment plants, energy supply, public transport or roads. Instead it has been driven by the demands of local developers and speculators, and ambitious, localised growth plans framed within a zero-sum game of potentially being left behind (if that town had growth or particular services, then this town had to have the same as well). It is extremely difficult to justify a situation in which there is presently enough land to accommodate an additional 1.1m units (as reported by the Irish Independent). That said, we are where we are, and it seems likely we are going to go through the painful process of vested interests seeking to protect investments that were made in good faith as council officials seek to rezone and dezone land that is clearly surplus to requirements in both the short and long term. And no doubt a number of cases will end up in the courts. What seems vital, however, is that lessons of the present property crisis are learnt and the zoning and planning system changed to stop what John Gormley has called ‘unfettered and irresponsible rezonings’, so that a more sustainable situation arises with respect to the environment and land/housing market.