COUNCILS have rezoned enough land to build almost 800,000 new homes that the country does not need, an Irish Independent investigation has found.
Local authorities have rezoned enough land to construct almost 1.1 million houses and apartments across the country at a time when thousands of homes lie empty in 'ghost estates'.
But official projections received by the Government have found fewer than 300,000 new units are needed between now and 2016.
The revelation highlights the extent of the role councillors and planners have played in fuelling the property boom which collapsed with devastating consequences.
Some councils including Meath rezoned up to 60 times more land for residential use than was needed.
Just two out of 34 councils -- Limerick and North Tipperary -- under-zoned land.
Councils who designated too much land for housing will now be forced by the Government to de-zone it back for agricultural use.
New laws due to pass through the Dail will compel local authority members to heed official planning guidelines instead of merely paying them lip service.
Green Planning Minister Ciaran Cuffe last night vowed councils who engaged in rezoning "madness" would be ordered to either de-zone the land, designate it for other uses or allow restricted development.
"There has been massive over-zoning. This is now clear. We need to learn the lesson of the ghost estates which we now have as a result of us losing the run of ourselves during the Celtic Tiger years," he told the Irish Independent.
"In Monaghan there is enough land rezoned for 60 years. That's madness."
Draft planning guidelines obtained by the Irish Independent reveal just 290,000 houses and apartments will be needed nationwide over the next six years.
However, official figures by each local authority sent to the Department of the Environment reveal councils have rezoned 33,000 hectares of land -- enough to build a staggering 1,086,119 units.
The draft guidelines also warn the current overhang of supply will extend "into the coming years" as uncompleted schemes are eventually finished and sold.
"In the short term it is not planned for, or expected, that housing completions will be significant," the documents state. "The figures (for housing demand) for 2016 may prove unachievable as the housing market is likely to be slow to recover."
The government report warns targets by "most of the councils" for building homes up to 2016 will now have to be deferred until at least 2022.
It advises that demand for housing should be met by using properties lying idle in ghost estates instead of building new homes.
The report also calls for a ban on "doughnut" estates, where large numbers of houses were built in villages and rural areas instead of in towns and cities. Mr Cuffe heavily criticised councils for allowing housing estates to be built up to three miles from towns and villages in rural settings where families had to rely on cars.
He said councils did not have the money to service these estates with water, roads and sewage.
And he warned local authorities will be given just 12 months for their development plans to fall in line with regional guidelines. But councils forced to de-zone land for 800,000 homes will not have to pay compensation to developers. This was removed in the 2000 Planning and Development Act.
Paul Melia and Treacy Hogan