Councillors vote in favour of plan at monthly district meeting
Money received from the liquidation of Courtown Water World Ltd, one of the companies involved in the former Courtown Adventure and Leisure Centre, is to be used to build the long-awaited footpath connecting the seaside town to neighbouring Gorey.
Speaking at the most recent meeting of Gorey Kilmuckridge Municipal District, Chief Executive Tom Enright explained that the council had invested “over €500,000” into Courtown Water World Ltd over the years but, following its closure, has been offered only €372,134.81 by the liquidators. The choice now, said Mr Enright, was to decide whether to take this offer and, if so, what to spend it on.
“I believe it’s incumbent on the council to put the money from the liquidation process back into Courtown. I believe we should continue drawing down the €30,000 a year to be paid out of the budget each year and make the €372k available to Courtown,” he said. “There was, at one stage, calls for the council to step in and take over the facility, I think that would have been the wrong decision because we did not have the resources required to upgrade the facility. We had put a sum of money into the centre over the last number of years to keep it afloat, the amount of money owed to the council from the liquidation process was €534,350.31. Once the liquidator sold the facility and distributed the income it received to the various creditors, we received a total of €372,134.81, leaving a shortfall of €162,215.50.”
And Mr Enright put it to the council that the sum received be used to complete a project which has long since been mooted in the district.
“I’m coming to the council to request that you consider using the €372k to complete the footpath from Gorey to Courtown. Our costing on that is somewhere in the region of €350-370k; we can use whatever’s leftover to appoint consultants to complete the design of the footbridge that’s needed.”
With regards to said footbridge, Mr Enright said a “temporary connection on each side of the road, across the existing road bridge” could be installed while the council sought funding for what is a separate project.
Supporting the Chief Executive’s suggestion, Councillor Joe Sullivan queried why the district had to dip into its own resources to fulfil these projects.
“The only thing I’d be concerned about is we’ve nearly done it all out of our own resources in Gorey, there’s been very little money coming from outside agencies or grant aid to do that,” he said. “We’ve sold a wood to put a footpath in Gorey but there’s a whole lot of other streams like Active Travel, and we have to pay our own way to put up that footpath.”
While the majority of councillors supported the plan to use the funds to build the footpath, Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin asked why they couldn’t be used to purchase something else, something close to the hearts of many of those in the area.
“I am 100 per cent in favour of completing the footpath I think it’s absolutely essential,” he said. “But I was under the assumption it would be done through Active Travel, grants, etc, as well as council funding. There was an understanding we would explore the purchase of the woods once this was completed. They were sold to private developers, I think it’s shameful that this woodland has been allowed to go to an Australian private company. This is an historic woodland, it’s unbelievable that this can happen.”
Cllr Ó Súilleabháin then referenced a previous meeting and a vote taken by councillors which he thought had secured the future of the woods.
“The money should be used to buy the woods, that was the original assumption of a lot of people and that was the vote of the council, that the woods would become public ownership, that was what was agreed and what the community wanted.”
However, Cllr Mary Farrell said she had no recollection of agreeing to any such proposal.
“Could I ask for a record of when that was agreed? It’s constantly being mentioned, but I need a record of it, just to refresh my memory,” she said.
Cllr Willie Kavanagh was similar non-plussed.
“I don’t remember that being agreed or discussed at any meeting. If it did happen, I may go see the doctor.”
“It was minuted, there was six votes to four,” replied Cllr Ó Súilleabháin. “It was reported in the press. Anyone can read a paper.”
And the Sinn Féin councillor’s recollection of events was backed up by Cllr Sullivan. “There was a vote taken on it, and a motion brought that the woods be kept in public ownership.
Attempting to draw a line under the debate, Mr Enright said no commitment had ever been given to purchasing the woodlands.
“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,” he said. “The previous company who owned the centre and the wooded area had to commit to giving public access to the woods, this is enshrined in the lands themselves. That is still the case, both the centre and the woods have to have public access, that was part of the legal agreement put in place by the liquidator and Active Tribe. We insisted upon that. No status has changed on that.
“It’s not that the council were selling anything. If we had funding available, if we had the resources, to bring the forest back into public ownership, but I don’t see how that would be good value for money. The woods already have public access. We have this money here now, the pressing issue is having a safe footpath. We have an opportunity to finish that once and for all. We will be monitoring how that forest is being used and ensuring public access is maintained there, but I haven’t (previously) given any commitment we would purchase the woods.”
A motion to use the monies received to develop the footpath was subsequently passed by councillors. Cllr Ó Súilleabháin’s counter-proposal to purchase the woods did not receive a seconder.