By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

Figures that show the full extent of Irish zoning delinquency, over the last number of years, have just been obtained by the Irish Independent (3rd May 2010). According to Paul Melia and Treacy Hogan; “Local authorities have rezoned enough land to construct almost 1.1 million houses and apartments across the country at a time when thousands (250,000 to 300,000) 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.” This rezoned land was, obviously, bloated in value and some people made a fortune, but banks – as over-exposed lenders to the purchasers – had to be bailed out by the Irish taxpayer after the inevitable collapse. Cheers lads.

As you might expect, County Meath (home of Tara and the M3) was the worst ‘offender’; 124,173 units zoned-for and only 2.032 units needed. That’s over-zoning – all rational thought blithely handed over at the door – by a factor of 61. Waterford had 40 times too much; Louth, 38 times; Monaghan, with enough land rezoned to last 60 years, had 26 times too much, but Meath was out on its own. Jared Diamond (The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee) provides a striking analogy for the situation, when he writes about certain communities of reindeer and rabbits eating “themselves into oblivion“;

“These and other similar examples of ecological suicide all involve populations that suddenly became free of the usual factors regulating their numbers.” Of course, any decision based on ‘baser’ instinct (no matter how stupid, or harmful) can subsequently be (and oh, how they were) post-rationalised, to yourself or to others.

Paul Melia has the following theory about an initial trigger; “Zonings are supposed to be based on calculation of need, but it’s clear that local considerations often took precedence over good planning. A county councillor seeing a town or village booming outside their area often felt their community was being left behind. Protecting their patch, and garnering votes for the march on Dáil Éireann or a return to the council, meant rezoning land.” But the editorial is much more damning in its implication;

“All this in addition to a quarter of a million empty houses! One must wonder whether councillors were affected by some collective mania or whether any brown envelopes, fat or slim, ever changed hands.”

Where does Tara and the M3 fit in these scenarios? Take your choice.