Courtown Community Council (CCC) has described the decision to use funds from the liquidation of Water World to build a new footpath as “an outrage”.
Reacting to the motion passed at the last Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District meeting, CCCs chairperson Linda Sinnott has accused Wexford County Council (WCC) of reneging on a previous commitment to use the funds to purchase Courtown Woods.
In a letter sent to the district cathaoirleach, Cllr Pip Breen, seen by this newspaper, CCC states: “At the May meeting of the Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District, a motion ‘To maintain in public ownership, Forest Park Leisure Complex and the adjoining 53 acres of protected woodland for the use and enjoyment of our local community and visitors to the area for the future” was carried. We are requesting an update on the progress WCC has made in honouring this motion.
“Gorey Courtown Forest Park Ltd (a registered charity) previously owned both Courtown Woods and Courtown Leisure Centre,” the letter continues. “Given that Courtown Community Council are the only other local charity representing the community, we have requested a full financial breakdown surrounding the sale and winding up of this charity from WCC. Unfortunately, these requests have been refused on the basis that a ‘Non-Disclosure Agreement’ has been signed with the new owners Active Tribe. Liquidators Baker Tilly have confirmed that this non disclosure agreement does not extend to Wexford County Council and their role as creditors in the liquidation.”
Ms Sinnott went on to say that she had previously received “personal assurances” from the Chief Executive of WCC that “once the liquidation process was complete, WCC would attempt to purchase the woods with the proceeds they received as creditors through the liquidation. By CPO if necessary.”
However, at the municipal district meeting, Mr Enright said no commitment had ever been given that the county council would purchase the woods.
“It was always seen as the council was selling the land – we did not own the land, it was owned by a company, it is now owned by a different company,’” Mr Enright told the meeting.
Arguing that there is “ample sources of funding” coming on stream to complete the linked footpath, Ms Sinnot said the council’s decision was “an outrage” and makes “absolutely no sense”.
She accused the council of ignoring “the fact that this woodland is one of the 0.02% last remaining ancient native woodlands in Ireland” and wondered why, with the exception of Cllr Ó Súilleabháin, the other elected members did not support those 10,000 signatures on the community council’s petition by opting to use the proceeds from the liquidation to “to keep Courtown Woods in public ownership”.
For his part, Cllr Ó Súilleabháin reiterated his desire to see the Courtown to Gorey footpath completed but, as he maintained during the district meeting, not at the expense of the woods.
“I believe this (the footpath) should be done through grant funding such as the Active Travel Scheme, the ORIS (Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme) as well as from the councils own resources - not from the proceeds of the sale of Courtown Woods to a private company as is now happening,” he said.
Referencing the 10,000 signatures collected by CCC, Cllr Ó Súilleabháin said any developments in the Courtown/Riverchapel area had to accede to the wishes of the local community.
“The facts are that €3-4 million of public money went into this project down the years,” he added. “This included decades of hard work and local fundraising by so many local people, with the project then managed for the people by a local community trust company. Also, we had been assured that while we couldn’t halt the liquidation process at that stage, the option of the council buying it back could be ‘explored’ following the sale as the least worst option in order to keep these historic woods in trust for the people. We were told on Tuesday that this wouldn’t represent ‘good economic value’ to which council members assented.
“What economic value can we put on the ancient 1500 year old High Cross of Kilbride in Courtown Woods? What monetary value can you place on native oaks and rare species that were mature and standing long before the 1798 rebellion? Why in this country do we feel its fine to privatise our national treasures? Lets call a spade a spade and admit that we appear to have long lost our soul as a people if we see nothing wrong with this.”
Courtown Community Council has also raised concerns about the proposed route of the footpath and the impact it will have on the woods.
“We believe the current proposed route of the Courtown/Riverchapel to Gorey Footpath is not at all suitable for local residents. The proposed route through Courtown Woods increases the journey time for pedestrians. It also presents personal safety and policing issues. We believe that local residents attempting to walk the 6.5km to Gorey will continue to put themselves in danger by taking the more direct current route across the existing road bridge, rendering the proposed route and bridge completely useless as a piece of infrastructure.
Requesting a full environmental impact survey from the top of Brickyard Hill, CCC has asked the cathaoirleach to ensure “consultation with the local community takes place and that residents have their say”.