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Tuesday September 05, 2006 21:11 by Ray
A LOCAL authority has come under fire after revelations it sold a prime development site in a thriving town centre for just €100. Leitrim County Council last week defended its decision to sell the town centre car park, which is estimated at being worth tens of thousands of euros. The land on Church Lane just off the Main Street in Manorhamilton was sold to the Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum Ltd, a voluntary group comprising of local businessmen. They have since sold it on to developers for an undisclosed "slight" profit who are in the process of building a major residential and commercial development on the site. The development was unsuccessfully appealed by a number of local residents to An Bord Pleanala in April and involved a petitions signed by Hundreds of local people. It has further emerged this week that the County Council have agreed to purchase back some of the development for €900,000.
But local community activist Gabriel McSharry has called for a full inquiry into all aspects of the sale.
"I think it is scandalous what has happened. The mind boggles that in this day and age a piece of public property in the town centre worth tens of thousands of euro could be sold by the council for such little money," he said.
In February last year, Leitrim County Council granted planning permission to the Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum for a major development on the site and additional lots, including eight three-bedroomed town houses, 12 apartments, offices and retail units.
Conditional to the application was the much-needed provision of over 100 car parking spaces and a public amenity area.
The decision was unsuccessfully appealed by a number of local residents to An Bord Pleanala, which upheld the planning permission with 17 conditions attached. Among the concerns voiced by some local residents had been the scale of the development and the lack of privacy and light it would result in.
Concerns were also expressed about a plan for an underground car park and the impact of this on surrounding buildings. But there was further shock when it emerged within the past two weeks that the site had been sold for €100.
"When hundreds of local people opposed this development at planning stage, little did they know that the land in question was given away for next to nothing," said Mr McSharry.
"Developers stand to make hundreds of thousands of euro profit on prime property like this in the centre of Manorhamilton, while the community continues to lack the basic infrastructure required for a town of its size. It's totally unacceptable."
With work on the site at a temporary standstill, he is calling on the council to ensure that conditions attached to the planning permission are enforced.
Mr McSharry made a further claim this week that the County Council have agreed to purchase back some of the development for €900,000.
In a statement to the Leitrim Observer this week, Mr McSharry claimed that not only had the Council sold the land for a nominal fee, but it now had to buy back a portion of the land at a much higher price.
"I have investigated this case and I now have the relevant evidence and documentation which confirms that the lands in question was sold by the councillors under the terms of Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001.
"There were only three conditions attached to the sale. These were that the formal transfer would not take place until the development had commenced and that the Council was happy that the development would be completed, that car parking lost would be replaced within the development, and that each party would be responsible for its own legal fees.
"We are being told this development will benefit everyone and that Leitrim County Council would even be provided with offices to provide a 'One-Stop-Shop' in the development.
"However, what we have not been told and what I have discovered is that Leitrim County Council will have to pay the sum of €900,000 to buy this small bit of property for the 'One-Stop-Shop," said Mr McSharry
He said it was important that the public meeting would deal with the issues raised to allay concerns among local people.
"Suggestions that the developers are going to provide extra car parking spaces for the people of this community out of the goodness of their hearts is also a nonsense.
"The reality is that the developers are legally obliged under planning legislation to provide the parking spaces in question to cater for the new residential units, offices and shops in the development.
"In fact it is the view of many local people that the car parking spaces will be inadequate to cater for the new residential units, the offices and the retail and commercial units.
"The people of this community are most anxious that the public meeting to deal with the Council's decision takes place as soon as possible.
"We now need openness and transparency and it is important that all the local councillors and the directors of the Manorhamilton Enterprise Forum attend the meeting as the public have many questions to raise with regard to the sale and development of the land in question," said Mr McSharry.
The meeting will take place in the Community Centre at 8pm on this evening September 5.