Department denies ‘census town’ change will affect CPO powers

Labour Party says change to term by CSO means Act setting up LDA can no longer allow compulsory acquisition of certain land for social housing

The Department of Housing and the Land Development Agency (LDA) have denied that a change in methodology by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) will impact on the power of the State to compulsory purchase sites to facilitate the agency building affordable and social housing.

The Act setting up the Land Development Agency used the CSO definition of “census towns” to identify relevant public lands which must be offered to the agency before their disposal. However, for Census 2022 the CSO changed its methodology and no longer uses “census towns” as the definition, replacing the term with “built up areas”.

In March 2023 an LDA report estimated that almost 10,000 homes could be developed on State-owned land within 10 years. It said there were 83 sites owned by the State in 10 cities and towns that were identified for housing.

A parliamentary question by Labour leader Ivana Bacik to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien suggested that the change in methodology and definition meant the State could no longer rely on the “town census” definition and might have difficulty establishing the legal basis to purchase relevant lands to use for affordable and social housing.


In his response, Mr O’Brien accepts that the methodology has changed and the law will be amended. He also suggests that it will not impact on the operations of the Land Development Agency. He and the agency have both played down the changes, saying it involves only a minor amendment to reflect the change in definition.

The Labour Party said the department’s response recognised the Act needed to be amended. It argued that if there were no “census towns” any more then there were no valid powers to acquire sites for the Land Development Agency. It also argued that it would be hard to see how the State could give good title to any property it acquired and disposed of on behalf of the agency if it has no power to do either.

Speaking this weekend, Ms Bacik said: “It beggars belief that the department managed to let the (State) lose its CPO powers on behalf of the LDA without any backup plan in place. Granted that this just requires a minor change in legislation, it just highlights how little control the Minister has over the housing situation.”

She added: “There is no sense of urgency, no sense of forward planning. If simple things like this are slipping through his fingers, how is Minister O’Brien managing the systemic issues at the heart of the crisis of our times?

In his response, Mr O’Brien wrote: “It is the view of my department that as the CSO has discontinued the use of (“census town”) and replaced it with the new statistical product of Built Up Areas”. He said that references in the Act to towns should now be interpreted as Built Up Areas. “The LDA will use the urban boundaries as defined by this new methodology to identify “relevant public lands”.

He did add that some legislative changes would have to be made: “My department will seek to update the terminology used in the Act at the next opportunity to better reflect the (terminology) in use by the CSO as part of the Census.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times