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Sale of the century brewing

A LOCAL authority needs loan approval from Environment Minister Phil Hogan's department to buy up one-tenth of the core of his native city.

Kilkenny County Council is calling Diageo's €2.1m offer to sell the historic St Francis Abbey Brewery site as a "once-in-a-century opportunity".

The Smithwicks brewery has operated from the 10.6-acre site for 300 years -- however, Diageo plans to shut down the facility and pull out of Kilkenny next year.

The Kilkenny brewery currently produces Budweiser and Smithwick's, while Dundalk is responsible for Harp, Carlsberg and Smithwick's.

Diageo plans to close its breweries in Kilkenny -- which has 44 staff -- and Dundalk and centralise its beer production at new facilities in St James's Gate, Dublin.

Members of Kilkenny Borough and County Councils voted unanimously in favour of the sale offer from Diageo -- but they must now raise the money to fund the purchase.

The councils have already set aside €300,000 for the transaction. The county council can raise another €500,000 from expected land sales in the area; however, there is a shortfall of €1.3m which it will now request from the Department of the Environment.

Discussions have been under way between the local authority and Diageo for some years in relation to taking over some of the lands as part of a Central Access Scheme and improving water services in the city.

Local sources suggested that Diageo is keen to conclude a deal and will then use the money generated to undertake the remediation of the site, which it is legally obliged to fulfil under Department of Environment guidelines.

Director of Services John Mulholland yesterday revealed to the Irish Independent that the 10.6 acres of city centre land represents one-tenth of the traditional core area of Kilkenny city -- or one-fifth of the city centre conservation area.

What the council plans to use the site for remains unknown; however, it needs the site to connect a road and new bridge crossing as part of the Central Access Scheme.

"The planning of the future use of the site will be considered concurrently with the statutory review of the City Development Plan that commences in mid-June," said Mr Mulholland.

He said it was the opinion of the two councils that the purchase was an "exceptional deal for the people of Kilkenny city and county and represents a once-in-a-century opportunity".

On Tuesday, Kilkenny local authority members green-lighted the purchase after they voted unanimously in favour of accepting Diageo's offer.

Local authorities wish to take over the site by 2014-'15 after it is cleared under Department of the Environment guidelines.

Councillors previously expressed regret at Diageo's decision to shut down the brewery, which was a significant employer in the region.

The site offered for sale does not include the Victorian Brewery buildings, which currently houses a visitor attraction.

Irish Independent