LOCAL authorities fuelled the property boom by rezoning enough land to build more than a million homes that were not needed, the Irish Independent can reveal.
The full extent of the zoning madness is confirmed for the first time today as new figures show the scale of the problem is worse than previously feared.
Councils across the country rezoned more than 44,000 hectares of land for housing over the past decade -- 31,633 hectares more than was actually needed.
This equates to enough land for almost 1.5 million houses and apartments -- but just 400,000 units are needed up to 2016, according to the Department of the Environment.
The revelation raises serious questions about the complete lack of regulation that allowed councillors to fuel the property bubble by deeming vast tracts of land to be suitable for housing.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent also reveal huge discrepancies between different councils across the country.
Housing Minister Michael Finneran's home county of Roscommon is the worst offender, where councillors zoned 1,193pc more land than was needed. Some 1,345 hectares are deemed suitable for housing, when just 104 hectares are required.
It is closely followed by South Tipperary (1,155pc), Cavan (857pc), Waterford (758pc), Clare (717pc) and Monaghan (705pc), which each zoned more than seven times the amount of land needed.
At the other end of the scale, Limerick city is under-zoned -- it needs 491 hectares, but just 249 hectares are zoned -- while Cork City (2pc) and Galway City (6pc) zoned slightly more than required.
Sources last night said a reliance on development levies along with pressure from developers and landowners led to the frenzy of rubber-stamping.
Some councillors also had a vested interest in making rural fields 'suitable' for housing.
"You had councillors who were auctioneers, developers and builders making these decisions," a source said. "And we had tax incentives encouraging people to build houses."
One-third of the toxic property loans going into NAMA are linked to land, meaning taxpayers could be stuck with €20bn of loans linked to fields that may never be developed.
An Bord Pleanala chairman John O'Connor has previously criticised the extent of the rezoning, saying "excessive and unsustainable zoning of land" had been a contributor to the property bubble and its aftermath.
New regional planning guidelines (RPGs) for the country state that 12,476 hectares of housing land are needed to meet demand up to 2016.
Some 44,109 hectares have been zoned -- 254pc more than required. Previous best estimates had suggested 33,000 hectares of land was zoned.
There are currently 1.46 million homes in the country, but enough zoned land for almost 1.5 million houses and apartments.
Based on the fact that Irish homes have an average of 2.75 occupants, the zoning provides for enough extra housing to accommodate more than four million people.
Local authorities will now have to dezone, rezone or forbid development on the massive landbanks as they redraw their development plans.
New laws introduced by Environment Minister John Gormley oblige the councils to ensure their plans are "consistent with" national and regional guidelines, rather than "have regard to" them as was the case.
"They have to comply with the core guidelines," the Department of the Environment said.
"This is the first time local authorities have been given the opportunity to address this. Within 12 months of the RPGs being adopted they have to be done. By the end of this month, all the RPGs will be done. In future we're saying only zone what you need, that's it."
The most recent figures show just over 9,500 new homes have been built in the first eight months of this year. If the trend continues, house building will fall to its lowest level since records began in 1970.