A land deal saga that was 10 years in the mak­ing

Bray People - - NEWS -

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.'

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