A land deal saga that was 10 years in the making
THE BACKGROUND to the Three Trouts land deal was dealt with in some detail during proceedings at the defamation case held over five days at Wicklow Circuit Court, starting last Monday and ending on Friday.
County Manager, Eddie Sheehy, gave an account of the background behind the compulsory purchase order (CPO) while he gave evidence on Wednesday.
In the early 2000s, under the Government's Social Housing Investment Programme (SHIP), County Councils throughout the country had been urged to proceed with social housing.
Greystones had been identified as the area with the largest demand for social housing in Wicklow.
Wicklow County Council set about identifying all available sites in Greystones, with 20 selected altogether. A Compulsory Purchase Order was issued by the council in 2004 on the owner and occupier of the 1.4022 hectares at Three Trouts, Charlesland.
A Notice to Treat was served by Wicklow County Council on July 12, 2006. By the end of September that year, once six weeks had expired from the date of the delivery of the notice of treat, the council was legally committed to proceed with the purchase of the land.
Efforts were made by valuers for both sides to negotiate an agreed amount of compensation. After no agreement could be reached, the matter was ultimately referred to the Property Arbitrator and a settlement was reached in March 2011 whereby the council agreed to pay compensation of €3 million.
In 2009 the Council was granted approval by the Department for Environment to borrow €5 million for the land at Charlesland. However, the council did not draw down the loan because the CPO compensation amount still had not been agreed. In July 2011 the council made a fresh application to the department to sanction the borrowing of the sum
of €3 million for the acquisition of the land on foot of a resolution of the elected members.
On November 3, 2011, Councillors Cullen, Nevin and Jimmy O'Shaugnessy met with then Minister for Housing and Planning, Willie Penrose T.D., where they presented the Minister with a document setting out a list of concerns they had regarding the manner in which the land acquisition was dealt with by the Council and also over the Department's management of the loan applications by the council. He was sent a further document on November 7 of that year regarding the CPO and valuation of the land.
The Department decided not to process the loan application while an investigation of the three councillors’ concerns ordered by Minister Phil Hogan took place. Seamus Woulfe SC was appointed on January 31, 2012, to carry out an independent review of allegations made against the Department. This led to his first report on March 12, 2012.
Mr. Woulfe was then appointed on June 20 that year to carry out a second independent review, focusing on concerns raised over the Council's role in the acquisition. The second Woulfe Report was published in April 2013.
The report found that almost all of the councillors concerns were ‘not well-founded' or were ‘misconceived.'
Within three hours of the report's publication, the County Manager drafted up a press release welcoming its findings.
In the last paragraph of the press release it was claimed that the council had lost €200,000 because of the review instigated by the three councillors.
Judge Thomas E O'Donnell said the purchase of the site had been the ‘source of enormous debate'.
‘ The purchase was the subject of controversy at local, council and government level and was the subject of two reports. There was disputed ownership, the demise of the owner and occupier of the land. It has been the source of media attention both nationally and locally, which it is fair to say still continues today.'