By Dan Walsh
Four district public representatives have united with Courtown Regeneration Partnership in a call for further public scrutiny of the proposed land transfer discussed at the Gorey-Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council meeting held in Blackwater Community Centre on Tuesday, May 16th.
In a statement issued by the Courtown Regeneration Partnership and Cllrs Andrew Bolger, Diarmuid Devereux, Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin and Joe Sullivan it is claimed that “the recent district meeting to vote on the disposal of Courtown’s main carpark raised many more serious questions than it answered” and adds; “The proposal put before members at the meeting by Director of Services is even more contentious than first thought.”
It advocates giving away the carpark, a substantial parcel of prime seafront land, to TYOL Bayview Ltd for development as well as an additional smaller parcel of land adjacent to the old Bayview site.
Cllr Devereux said; “We need to make it clear that despite claims classifying this transaction as ‘a straightforward swap’, what is actually being proposed here is the free gift of a substantial parcel of Courtown’s public land to a developer for private speculation. This should be questioned, and people will be justifiably angered if they feel they are being short-changed.”
Echoing Cllr Devereux’s concerns, Cllr Sullivan added “Frankly we’re absolutely baffled as to why prime public land like this would be given away for nothing? If it’s decided that the carpark site should be made available for hotel development, then why in God’s name is it not being put on the open market to obtain the best price for local taxpayers?
“What’s being proposed is a total bonanza for the developer. Has the site been advertised to other prospective developers? Why is one developer so favoured? Surely the Council could be sued by aggrieved competitors? Why not the safer option of offering a Letter of Comfort to the preferred developer assuring a transfer only when and if a planning application is successful,” concluded Cllr Sullivan.
Cllr Bolger alluded to legal concerns around the transfer. “Land and related rights in Council possession are held in trust for the public. It is vital that the sale or transfer of such a valuable asset should be subject to thorough process. Having spoken to the Director about the ‘land swap’, I am aware that the information provided, in the memo, was what generally is provided in a Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 disposal. However, owing to the contentious nature of this Section 183 vote, I will be seeking further assurances on ‘first refusal’ of the property. We will be asked to vote on this transaction and all I’m trying to do is to seek protection for the Council should a Section 183 be carried.”
Furthermore, in response to questions about the commercial value of the site, Councillors expressed disbelief at the ridiculous low-ball valuation of 220-260k being placed on the carpark by Wexford County Council.
Cllr Ó Súilleabháin, noting that they saw no documentation corroborating the 220k valuation, dismissed the figure: “The valuation touted at the meeting is clearly way off. A ring around Commercial Land Valuers and a quick look at comparable seafront development land prices elsewhere in the South East would place the value far, far in excess of that. Under Section 183, it’s incumbent on the Council to obtain the best market price or value when disposing of Council-owned land. What’s going on here?” he asked.
He also pointed out a vague clause in the proposal that particularly alarmed him and his fellow Councillors. Apparently, the Council would have a right of first refusal to buy back the site if the development did not go ahead.
“So potentially we could have an outrageous situation where the Council transfers to the developer a huge development site for free and then buys it back from him 12 months later at a vastly inflated price! “he said.
While Courtown Regeneration Partnership and the four Councillors have reservations about the suitability of the carpark for hotel development and still insist that a feasibility study is essential, they stressed that “we all want regeneration and jobs in Courtown and we’re working together with CRP to begin the process of planned, sustainable economic and environmental renewal. That’s why a decision on such a key Courtown site merits our considerable attention and more investigation. Too much is at stake.”
Representing Courtown Regeneration Partnership Linda Sinnott, an observer at the meeting, agreed with the four Councillors’ reservations: “The wishes and needs of the Courtown community are still being ignored. There are serious shortcomings in this whole process which need addressed. Councillors must be equipped with proper information and documentation before approving or otherwise the sale or transfer of this Council-owned land”.
Together, in the public interest, CRP and the four Councillors will be seeking answers from the Executive as a matter of urgency.