Council to target Dublin church sites in major land-buying programme

Existing low-rise estates may be considered for demolition to make better use of land for housing, Dublin City Council chief executive says

A major land-purchase programme, targeting church-owned and other institutional sites, is to be initiated by Dublin City Council within the next six months, council chief executive Owen Keegan has said.

The local authority has for several years warned it is running out of land for the development of social housing, with almost all remaining sites in its ownership either already under construction or at various stages of the planning process.

Mr Keegan said while the council would be open to considering the purchase of any land suitable for housing, sites which were not yet zoned for residential use, including institutional lands and industrial lands, would represent the best value for money.

The council might also consider the demolition of some of its existing low-rise social housing estates to allow for the “intensification” of housing on council-owned lands, he said.


The local authority has enough land to last for just three more years, the duration of its current housing construction programme, after which time it would need to have secured new sites for development, Mr Keegan said.

Housing output

“We have a huge programme of over 15,000 social, affordable and cost-rental units at various stages in the system. It is clear, however, if we are to maintain housing output beyond 2026, we are going to have to start acquiring land,” he said. “We don’t have a huge window to acquire it so we need to get moving on that.”

Under the land-purchase programme, the council would focus on acquiring well-located sites, which were not currently zoned for housing to avoid paying a premium for residentially zoned lands. City councillors would then be asked to rezone the lands.

Two years ago, the council acquired the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas, one of Dublin’s largest churches, from the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. The 1960s church was subsequently demolished and last June more than 100 social homes were approved for the site.

Earlier this year, as part of the formation of the new city development plan, which came into force on December 14th and will govern the development of the capital until 2028, the archdiocese sought the rezoning of more than 30 more churches in the city and their surrounding lands for housing.

However, Mr Keegan said at the time the rezonings would be “premature” as the diocese had put forward no specific proposals for the future development of the land.

Archdiocese parishes

Mr Keegan now says the council would be interested in acquiring some of these sites.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said projects were considered on a case-by-case basis. Two parishes were currently considering the potential of their sites for housing, but “these projects are at an early stage”, she said.

Separately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “a mixture of carrot and stick” could be used by the Government to ensure developers with residential planning permissions actually built homes.

“We need to turn the corner on housing, it is an emergency, it’s affecting people in so many different ways. It’s holding us back as a country, and it’s causing intergenerational division that I don’t like to see. It’s really going to be a case of let’s do everything, unless there’s a really good reason as to why we can’t,” he told reporters.

On whether the Government could put pressure on developers with planning permissions to deliver homes, he said: “I think we can use a mixture of carrot and stick.”

He said programmes like Croí Cónaithe were “the carrot” and the Land Development Agency could do things like pre-purchase apartments and homes for social and affordable housing “that can be bankable and can help developers build”. Other mechanisms were needed too, he said, citing the planned Residential Zoned Land Tax (RZLT) which is due to come into effect in 2024 and will see landowners faced with a tax of 3 per cent of the market value of land that is zoned for residential use but is not being developed.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times