Councillors vote in favour of ‘Land Swap’

Concerned Courtown residents gathered at Blackwater Community Centre for today’s meeting of Gorey Kilmuckridge District Council.

By Dan Walsh at Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council meeting at Blackwater Community Centre

A 5-4 vote majority of members at today’s (Tuesday) monthly meeting of Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council have favoured the controversial recommendation Section 183 – Transfer of Lands at Ballinatray Lower, Courtown – known locally as the ‘Land Swap’ and the matter will now appear on the agenda for all 34 members of Wexford County Council for final approval and the launch of a planning application.

As members arrived at Blackwater Community Centre around twenty people with placards saying ‘No to the Land Swap’ gathered peacefully outside and some of the councillors did pay them the courtesy of listening to their concerns ahead of entry to the meeting.

When the matter was brought to the meeting Cllr Joe Sullivan quoted several passages from Standing Orders and questioned the legal standing of taking such a major decision outside of the Council Chamber in Gorey. Cllr Diarmuid Devereux told the meeting “We have a duty to avoid a Standing Orders breach” and Cllr Andrew Bolger was confused and claimed; “I don’t know if it is legal to proceed or not.”

Cllr Willie Kavanagh recalled meetings “outside Gorey” on another occasion when it was held in Wells House and Gardens and stated; “I can not see a problem”, Cllr Pip Breen said; “We voted to come here at some stage and I think it is OK to go ahead.” Cllr Oliver Walsh expressed his disappointment that the meeting had come to Blackwater and “all the argument and debate at this stage.”

Director of Services Liz Hore said “the Land Swap” is a recommendation going forward to 34 councillors at the next county meeting and matters are brought to members of the municipal district as a courtesy.

The matter was suspended until 4 o’clock while Ms. Hore contacted legal advice at County Hall and the way was cleared to discuss matters and hold a vote.

Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin told the meeting that he was uncomfortable to make such a big decision, described the matter as “a gifting rather than a swap”, he admitted that Courtown needed hotel accommodation but felt that the traditional small hotels approach was the way to go.

There were concerns about “the wishes of the community” and the need for a feasibility study.

Some members complained about a lack of information, but Ms. Hore refuted these claims and stated that all the information is available to members if they contact her.

Some details did emerge. For example, 200 jobs would be created at the construction stage. The estimated value of the Bayview site is €300,000 and the car park €220,000-280,000. It is a credit transfer, no financial involvement, but a direct swap ‘land for land’.

It is a Section 183 standard that planning must be made within 12 months to safeguard the deal

There were lots of views expressed and the meeting was highly charged and there was a general feeling in some quarters that “we must make a decision now. No point in kicking the can down the road.”

The vote taken was proposed by Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin and seconded by Cllr Andrew Bolger – to defer till the June Municipal District meeting until more information is available (it lost) -while a counter motion – to move the matter to the June Wexford County Council meeting – was proposed by Cllr Oliver Walsh and seconded by Cllr Anthony Donohoe.

The deferral to the municipal meeting motion was defeated and the decision to send the recommendation of Section 183 to a full meeting of Wexford County Council won the day by five votes to four.

IN FAVOUR; Cllrs Willie Kavanagh, Pip Breen, Oliver Walsh, Anthony Donohoe and Donal Kenny (Cathaoirleach). AGAINST; Cllrs Andrew Bolger, Joe Sullivan, Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin and Diarmuid Devereux. Cllr Mary Farrell was absent.

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