Monday 11 October 2010

Editorial: Manic zoning cost us dearly

OVER the last couple of years, all of us have grown familiar with the gruesome story of the "ghost estates". Over the same period, it has been extremely difficult to quantify a more extraordinary story -- how it could have been much worse.

During the boom, the building frenzy affected more than bankers, developers, politicians and manic investors. It affected councillors. Estimates of their crazed activities have grown worse with time. The final figures procured by this newspaper are higher than anything previously feared.

The councillors rezoned an incredible 44,000 hectares of land -- equivalent to half the size of Co Louth -- in the last decade. This amounted to almost four times the official estimate for the quantity of land needed to meet the country's housing needs until 2016.

It would have meant enough land to accommodate almost 1.5 million houses and apartments. These could have housed more than four million people, nearly equal to the present population. In Roscommon, the councillors zoned 12 times the necessary land.

Safeguards for the future have now been put in place. The councillors face a deadline for deciding the future use of swathes of almost worthless land. Colossal sums of money have been lost. The manic zoning helped to lead to perhaps as much as €20bn of the banks' stupendous losses, for which the taxpayers will foot the bill. Have the taxpayers any redress? Probably not, but An Garda Siochana might do well to look into whether brown envelopes ever changed hands.

Irish Independent

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