Agricultural lands in urban areas must now be rezoned for housing

Innovative solutions that meet the needs of both urban dwellers and rural communities must be explored

During the Housebuilding Summit 2024, Minister for Housing, Local Government & Heritage Darragh O’Brien suggested that local authorities consider revising their recently adopted development plans to designate additional land for housing, thereby aiding in the achievement of the Government’s housing targets.

The Minister’s statement arises amid Ireland’s persistent struggle to tackle the housing crisis, compelling the exploration of innovative approaches as potential components of the solution. In this context, we offer a contentious proposal: the rezoning of agricultural lands in urban areas for residential use during the lifetime of the adopted development plans. While this initiative may be met with scepticism by some, it presents a possible and pragmatic solution to the pressing need for housing while considering the preservation of agricultural heritage and sustainability.

At the heart of this proposal lies the challenge of balancing urban development with the imperative to protect agricultural lands. In Ireland, where agriculture has deep cultural and economic significance, any proposal to repurpose agricultural lands must be approached with caution and careful consideration. However, given the ongoing housing crisis, it is time to explore innovative solutions that meet the needs of both urban dwellers and rural communities.

The key aspect of this proposal involves prioritising the rezoning of agricultural lands that are serviced by existing urban infrastructure (including amenities, utilities, and transportation) or are easily accessible. By targeting these areas, planners can minimise the impact on surrounding agricultural land while maximising the use of existing resources. This approach not only ensures efficient use of infrastructure but also promotes compact growth by reducing sprawl and preserving green spaces.


Critics of rezoning agricultural lands may raise concerns about the loss of valuable farmland. While these concerns are valid, it is essential to recognise that not all agricultural lands are of equal value in terms of productivity or suitability for farming. By conducting thorough assessments and prioritising lands with lower agricultural significance, planners can minimise the impact on agricultural resources while still meeting housing demands.

Moreover, the housing crisis extends beyond mere numbers; it affects individuals and families struggling to find affordable and suitable accommodation. Unlocking agricultural lands for residential development in urban areas can help create and expand vibrant communities with access to essential amenities and public services. This approach not only addresses the immediate housing shortage but also fosters social cohesion and economic vitality.

However, rezoning agricultural lands for residential use is not without its challenges. It requires comprehensive planning, community engagement, and robust regulatory frameworks to ensure that development is sustainable and sensitive to local needs. Furthermore, safeguards must be put in place to protect the environment, preserve cultural heritage, and mitigate any adverse effects on neighbouring communities.

In navigating the complexities of this proposal, CBRE’s planning and development land services stand ready to provide expertise and guidance. We can assist local authorities and stakeholders in identifying suitable agricultural lands for rezoning while ensuring sustainable development practices and community engagement throughout the process.

In conclusion, the rezoning of agricultural lands in urban areas for residential use during the lifetime of the adopted development plans should be considered a key component in tackling Ireland’s housing crisis, provided it is implemented thoughtfully and responsibly. By strategically focusing on agricultural lands already equipped with existing infrastructure or easily accessible to it, we can effectively harmonise compact growth with the preservation of agricultural resources.

León Murray is director of planning and development-land services at CBRE