Courtown land swap decisions cannot be pushed back again despite calls to postpone briefing

The first Regeneration Partnership meeting in progress in Riverchapel Community Complex on Monday evening. Pic: Jim Campbell

Amy LewisGorey Guardian

Chairperson of Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council Donal Kenny said that decisions on the Courtown land swap cannot be delayed any further following calls from some local groups to postpone Tuesday’s briefing on the issue.

The proposed land swap is at the centre of a discussion around the development of a new hotel in Courtown by local businessman, Thomas O’Loughlin. Mr O’Loughlin, who owns the site of the old Bayview Hotel in Courtown, has outlined his plans to apply for planning permission for a 144-room hotel in Courtown. It has been suggested that this hotel would be constructed on the site of the Wexford County Council car park if a proposal for a land swap between the old Bayview Hotel site and the car park is approved and if planning permission is granted.

The proposal for the swap falls to a Section 183 decision and needs to go on the council agenda and be voted on by the members of Wexford County Council before any decision is made.

At this Tuesday’s Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council meeting, members will be briefed on the proposal and will have the opportunity to ask questions about what it entails. The members can then either choose to vote on whether they wish to bring the proposal to the full council, or defer it. If they vote to move ahead with the proposal, it will then be taken to the Wexford County Council meeting in June, where all of the members will vote for or against the proposed land swap.

On learning of this week’s scheduled briefing, members of a newly-formed Courtown Regeneration Partnership (CRP) have called for the decision to be delayed, saying that a feasibility study is necessary in advance of any vote.

“The rapid demographic evolution of Courtown from a small coastal village and seasonal holiday resort to a substantial sized town of approximately 10,000 residents has been largely ignored by the local Council in its planning and investment decisions.

“We face many challenges. The infrastructure has not kept pace with the exponential population growth. We lack many of the facilities such a sizeable population warrants,” said CRP member Deirdre Robinson of the Courtown Woodland Alliance.

“We want to avoid the mistakes of the past and address the disastrous piecemeal development, land-hoarding and dereliction which has blighted the area.”

Ms Robinson said that it was “incredulous” that councillors would consider debating and voting without a “responsible, independent feasibility study”. At the inaugural meeting of the CRP last week, she urged the councillors present “to act responsibly and ethically on behalf of all their constituents”.

"We are asking for a proper debate on the issue with full community input and consideration of all the relevant data.”

Speaking on Monday, Chairperson of Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council Donal Kenny said that the briefing cannot be postponed for any longer.

"I think it is time to make the decision. It doesn’t matter what way the decision goes tomorrow, whether it is for or against, there will be a certain amount of people not happy with it,” he said. “In terms of postponing it and having another chat, the community are split down there. Even if we do that, we will still have some people unhappy with the decision.”

Cllr Kenny noted that the briefing had already been postponed to give an opportunity for people in Courtown to meet with the Council. In February, Courtown Community Council (CCC) called for Wexford County Council to review the results of their recent community survey before moving ahead with a vote. This was acknowledged at a meeting of Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District meeting and it was agreed to postpone the briefing until after the CCC survey presentation in March. The briefing was pushed back again until the May meeting as some of the members were abroad.

“You can’t keep putting things back. I think the decision has to be made now,” said Cllr Kenny.

"My decision will be based on fairness and progress and I will be making what is, to the best of my knowledge, the best decision for Courtown.”

Cllr Kenny went on to say that whatever decision is made will be subject to “heavy conditions”, while also noting that the hotel will still need to go through the planning process regardless of whether the members vote in favour of the land swap.

Commenting ahead of the briefing on Monday, Councillor Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin said that he will be unable to support the land swap proposal on Tuesday.

"I've been given minimal detail, given but yet am expected to support the gifting of our large, seaside public carpark for a private development that would appear to be out of scale with the recommendation of the extensive Smart Village Survey, which aims for ‘sustainable and proportionate development’.

“Hotel accommodation is needed in Courtown. However, I believe the long term focus should be to return Courtown Hotel and Taravie Hotel to tourism, and built a modest boutique style hotel on the footprint of the recently demolished Bayview Hotel which overlooks the harbour. Courtown once had a thriving tourism industry with small hotels. There is not one hotel bed available in what is supposed to be a tourism resort."

Cllr Ó Súilleabháin went on to say that he has been elected to serve the people of Courtown/ Riverchapel.

“At the end of the day, it is the people of the area that I am answerable to, so I will not be able to support this proposal as put before us, nor will my two party colleagues when it comes to the full meeting in June.”