Catholic archdiocese criticises Dublin council chief’s objection to rezoning church lands

Owen Keegan recommending against using sites for housing seen as ‘short-sighted’

The Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has branded as "short-sighted" a recommendation by Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan against zoning church lands for housing.

The archdiocese earlier this year made submissions on the city development plan seeking residential zoning for more than 30 churches sites across the city.

Mr Keegan has recommended city councillors reject the majority of these submissions. In most cases, any residential development on the site was likely to require church demolition, while a number of the churches were protected structures which would limit development in their grounds, he said.

In a strongly worded statement, the archdiocese said Mr Keegan’s recommendation was “short-sighted and unnecessarily restricts the diocese’s efforts to assist in meeting the city’s housing needs”.

Residential development

The sites had been governed by a zoning that did allow some residential development. However, Mr Keegan noted this zoning, Z15, had resulted in many institutional sties being “comprehensively redeveloped for housing” and its wording was not sufficiently robust “to prevent the ongoing erosion and loss of these lands”.

For this reason Z15 zoning was being amended to restrict development to “highly exceptional circumstances” only.

The archdiocese sought to change to a different zoning, Z12, which allowed “predominately residential future use” of the lands.

In its statement, the archdiocese said this zoning would “more robustly support our stated objective regarding the delivery of much-needed housing” and it was “disappointed that the flexibility available under the status quo will no longer exist”.

Surplus land

It was, it said, a time of “great change” in the archdiocese. “Like every charity, the diocese must ensure that resources continue to be appropriately used in support of its mission.”

Last March, Archbishop Dermot Farrell said the church had been asked by the Government, through the Minister for Housing, to co-operate in addressing the housing crisis by making surplus land and buildings available for housing development.

“In response, the Bishops’ Conference indicated their desire that redundant parish properties should, as in the past, whenever appropriate, be made available for housing and especially social housing,” he said. “It seems ironic that this would appear to be made more difficult by the proposed zoning status of significant numbers of properties in Dublin.”

Mr Keegan said there was already sufficient zoned land within the city to cater for anticipated housing demand for the duration of the development plan which would govern the shape of the city for the next six years. The church lands “are not viewed as development opportunity lands”, he said.

Councillors will vote on the zoning proposals in July.