Wexford County Council Director of Services addresses concerns on hotel land swap proposal

Questions raised on land swap proposal.

Gorey-Kilmuckridge Municipal District meeting in Blackwater community centre on Tuesday afternoon was picketed by locals of Courtown about the Land Swap Deal.

Liz Hore, Head of Enterprise and Economic Development at Wexford County Council.

thumbnail: Gorey-Kilmuckridge Municipal District meeting in Blackwater community centre on Tuesday afternoon was picketed by locals of Courtown about the Land Swap Deal.
thumbnail: Liz Hore, Head of Enterprise and Economic Development at Wexford County Council.
Amy LewisGorey Guardian

Members of the newly-formed Courtown Regeneration Partnership (CRP) and several councillors have called for further information from Wexford County Council before the vote on the Courtown land transfer takes place in June.

At the May meeting of Gorey-Kilmuckridge Municipal District Council, councillors decided to bring the matter of the Courtown land swap to the June meeting of Wexford County Council, where it can be legally voted on by the full council. After a long discussion about the technicalities of the proposed transfer and the concluding vote to bring the decision to County Hall next month, Director of Services Liz Hore stressed that members with any remaining questions could contact her between then and the June meeting.

In the days that followed, questions have been raised by members of CRP, along with four local councillors, who contributed comments to a CRP statement.

In their statement, CRP said that the recent district meeting “raised many more serious questions than it answered”. This statement comes after one of their members, Linda Sinnott, sat in as an observer at the recent Gorey-Kilmuckridge Municipal District meeting.

In a comment contributed to the CRP statement, Councillor Diarmuid Devereux said that the proposed transaction “should be questioned and people will be justifiably angered if they feel they are being being short-changed”.

Meanwhile, Councillor Joe Sullivan queried why the land was not being placed on the open market, while also proposing that a Letter of Comfort be offered to the preferred developer “assuring a transfer only when and if a planning application is successful was to be offered”.

Councillor Andrew Bolger said that he had been assured by the Director 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,” he added in a comment in the CRP statement.

Councillor Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin expressed his concern over the clause in the proposal which said that Wexford County Council would have the right of first refusal if the development did not go ahead, suggesting that could lead to the site being sold back to the Council at an inflated price.

While Courtown Regeneration Partnership and the four councillors said they have reservations about the suitability of the car park for hotel development and still insist that a feasibility study is essential, they stressed that they want regeneration and jobs in Courtown.

“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.”

Representative of CRP, Linda Sinnott, who was an observer at the recent Council meeting said that “councillors must be equipped with proper information and documentation before approving or otherwise the sale or transfer of this Council-owned land”.

Speaking on Tuesday, ​Director of Services Liz Hore assured that the Council is working with a team of solicitors to ensure all bases are covered.

“I wanted to put in some conditions so, in the eventuality that the project did not go ahead, we can protect the site because the whole reason we are looking at a transfer is to facilitate an opportunity for the investment of a hotel that would be of scale and include the right facilities to attract tourism and create jobs,” she said.

To safeguard the council, the first condition I wanted was that planning would have to be lodged within a year should the Council decide to pass the transfer. If they do, that is one year from June in terms of timescale.”

Ms Hore said that the planning process would give people the opportunity to offer their views on the development in question.

Addressing fears raised by councillors that the Council would have to buy back the site should the development not go ahead, Ms Hore said the ‘first refusal’ condition will ensure this does not happen, saying that the Council will be in control of all decisions affecting the site. Should the developer receive planning permission but not move ahead with the project, the Council will decide on what happens with the site next.

“Wearing my economic hat, you are never going to have a situation that you are going to expose the Council to any financial risk,” she said. “The intention of this condition is the opposite. It is to ensure that, if the development was being looked at by a different party, that the Council can make an informed decision because our agreement is with TYOL Bayview Ltd. If this happened, it could be that members are happy to proceed on that basis, or they can decide they would like to revert back, or they might have another project they decide to look at for the site. The whole intention [of the first refusal condition] is to not put the Council at any risk at all.”

“I am trying to ensure that the reasons I am recommending this project from a tourism and economic development perspective are upheld and to protect any risk to that.”

When asked why the site was not put on the open market, Ms Hore explained that the developer was already looking to establish a smaller hotel in Courtown but the Council felt that a hotel of scale is needed for the area. The proposed land swap offered an “opportunity to look at bigger hotel of scale, which would not be constrained” by the Bayview site. Ms Hore went on to say that such a hotel could help to accelerate further development in the area.

“We have been looking at a proposed marina for Courtown but in order to attract and leverage investment for a marina, we have to show we have a market. You are trying to create that right ecosystem,” she said.

Ms Hore reiterated that the decision-making authority for a Section 183 decision is at full Council level, adding that she is welcoming any further questions from the councillors regarding the proposed transaction.