Council ignores requests from Gavin to meet about 'sky garden'
Published 13/11/2011 | 05:00
CELEBRITY TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin has revealed his demands to address an Irish city council over an escalating €2.3m 'sky garden' controversy have been ignored.
In an increasingly embarrassing row for Cork City Council, Gavin wrote to all 31 councillors asking that he be allowed to directly address them and answer all queries about the garden project and its financing.
His request came after the city council repeatedly refused to release key documents about the project and its funding under Freedom of Information legislation.
The 'Avatar' sky garden won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year. The garden concept was inspired by Gavin having watched the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar -- and attracted worldwide headlines thanks to its 'sky pod' centrepiece.
The council declined a request to release key documents about the project in August and, following a full internal review of all documents relating to the garden, upheld that decision.
The garden project became mired in controversy after it emerged it cost a whopping €2.3m to develop -- €400,000 of which will come from the cash-strapped city council.
The remainder of the funding will come from Failte Ireland.
The council plans to locate the garden in Fitzgerald Park -- despite Gavin warning about serious flood issues at the site.
The garden is now in storage at Cork marina amid increasing concerns over the cost of its development and its long-term maintenance and operation.
The centrepiece of the garden is a steel-and-timber pod which 'floats' 30 metres off the ground via a giant steel crane.
Gavin has now responded to the ongoing controversy -- and revealed that several written requests by him to City Hall to be allowed to publicly address the issue have been ignored.
He also claimed that the council asked him to assist in not releasing documentation about the project to the media.
"Worryingly, we were recently asked by the legal department in Cork City Council to agree with them not to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act," Gavin said.
The celebrity gardener said he does not want the matter to drag on, and is more than willing to address whatever questions councillors have.
He now wants to be allowed to address a full council meeting.
Cllr Chris O'Leary (Sinn Fein) said Gavin's letters cast the entire controversy in a dramatic new light -- and that efforts were clearly being made to suppress information. Cllr Ted Tynan (Workers Party) said that voters deserve answers about how so much money can be found for a project when council services are facing cutbacks.
"I find it incredible that so much money could be found for a garden in the current economic climate," he said.
Failte Ireland has described the garden as an investment in Ireland's long-term tourism infrastructure.
Cork City manager Tim Lucey has declined to react to Gavin's letter. He insisted that he is "more than satisfied that every statutory accounting and legal responsibility was fully observed".
The controversy will be discussed at tomorrow night's council meeting.