Way back in the heady days of the Celtic Tiger when certain people “were going mad” as Enda Kenny put it there were certain senior management in Wicklow County Council following that advice with gusto. The only problem is they were going mad with our council money and not their own and buying the land at Three Trouts at 10 times the actual value.
Three Trouts Compulsory Purchase
On the 6th of December 2004 Wicklow County Council served a compulsory purchase order on William Irwin and John Nolan relating to a piece of lands in Three Trouts close to Charlesland in Greystones. The land was 1.4 Hectares in size. This land was slapped with a compulsory purchase order on foot of a report by senior housing engineer Michael Mangan. He said in his report that this site was suitable for affordable and social housing. Personally I think a field out in the middle of nowhere is in no way suitable for affordable or social housing but that is just me applying logic to the situation.
The land was valued by GVA Donal O Buachalla and between the hops and the trots the figure was circa €5 million. This shows you the ridiculous valuations that were floating around during the mad period when certain individuals laid the foundations for the mess we are paying for now in the country.
Notice to treat
This where the whole thing goes absolutely pear shaped and the screw-up happened. Wicklow County council served a notice to treat for the land at Three Trouts on the 12th of July 2006. This is not a contract but it is the first steps to full compulsory purchase. Once a notice to treat is served the owners of the land must come back with their valuations or the amount they expect for the land. The owners claims came back to the council on 16th and 17th of August 2006
As I said this is where the damage was done. The council under section 5(2) of the acquisition of land (Assessment of compensation) act 1919 has 6 weeks in which it can withdraw its notice to treat and therefore pull out of the compulsory purchase of the land at three trouts. They of course didn’t.
No Social Housing
In 2008 both Mr Irwin and Mr. Nolan passed away. The compulsory purchase of the land at Three Trouts had still not been completed. At this point the recession had hit and as we all know land and house valuations went off a cliff. Because of mismanagement by Fianna Fail aided by an opposition who supported everything they did the whole country was quickly being flushed down the toilet. The estates of both men pursued this matter as they wanted it concluded. At this point for some unknown reason the council wasn’t bothered building social housing in the middle of nowhere. Thats a point that needs more investigation. Of course as part of that investigation it would be important to look at the fact that Ballymore Homes own the land adjacent to it. Mulryans Ballymore Homes are in Nama now but at the time they were involved in other dealings with the council which will come up later in another piece. A battle began. A battle with our money in the balance not the personal money of the incompetent senior management.
Because Wicklow County Council Senior management had not withdrawn its notice to treat on the lands at Three Trouts in the 6 week period prescribed in the act mentioned above the whole county was now liable for the cost of this land at the valuations obtained at the time of the notice to treat and the receiving of the claimants valuations. The claims came right at the top of the property bubble. Indeed later on in the story the council tries to excuse itself by saying the price attained was good value at the time. After much correspondence between the parties over years, the Irwin estate referred the matter to the property abritrator to sort things out.
A hearing took place on the 11th of March 2011 with all parties in attendance. After much debate Wicklow County Council finally agreed to paying the claiments €3 Million for the piece of land which was now valued at approximately €300K. We as a county had just agreed to pay 10 times the value of a piece of land in Three Trouts that was out in the middle of nowhere. The money had to be paid by the 31st of August 2011.
€3 Million Loan
Of course Wicklow County Council did not have this money. God knows where that actually went. So on the 13 of July 2011 Lorainne Gallgher sent a letter requesting the attendance of all councillors at a special meeting of Wicklow County Council on the 18th of July. At this meeting the councillors were more or less cornered into voting for a loan of €3 Million to cover this major screw-up at three trouts. A loan that we are still paying for today. A vote which would legitimize the screw-up and spread the blame when that day came around.
It must be remembered that this meeting took place at a time when the Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour pact or inner sanctum was in a effect and its membership consisted of most of the council. At this special meeting of Wicklow County Council Director of Services for housing Michael Nicholson gave the councillors a rundown of what actually happened with the land at three trouts that brought the council to the point where they had to go in hock for €3 Million to cover a monumental screw-up. A screw-up that absolutely nobody was held accountable for, not least the county manager Eddie Sheehy.
The Story Laid Bare
In this rundown Mr. Nicholson according to the official minutes stated that the loan for Three Trouts and its interest would be rolled up after the 7 years of the loan period had elapsed and would be claimed back through the Land Aggregation Scheme. It was made clear that this would not result in the lowering of service levels even though they would in effect be paying this loan out of council coffers. How that works is anybody’s guess unless there is more money available than is being reported by the county council.
It was mentioned several times to the councillors that the alternative would be to fund the obscene purchase through council overdraft which would attract a significantly higher interest rate. It should be noted that at no time would arrogance allow the county manager or any of the senior management to apologise for costing the people of Wicklow €3 million for a worthless piece of land. Excuses were made repeatedly as to the need for social housing which has never been built since nor will it be built as the department of the environment has handed down a rule that local authorities must lease properties instead of building. We bought farm land at celtic tiger rates in 2011
The Lie Revealed
At this point things went even more pear shaped. The county manager Eddy Sheehy stepped in to clarify things even more. He stated that the legal advice received after the fact stated that it was impossible to undo the screw-up they had made and that the elected members were face with just two choices. A €3 million Loan or €3 Million out of council services to the public.
But he said something at this point which contradicted what Director of Services Nicholson had said earlier. DOS Michael Nicholson had said they would be able to roll up the loan plus interest for Three Trouts and claim it back under the Land Aggregation Scheme. County Manager Eddy Sheehy said more or less the same with one important difference. He said in 7 years THE HOPE is that the land qualifies for the Land Aggregation Scheme. The word HOPE makes it a hell of a lot different to what the Inner Sanctum of councillors had been told earlier by Director of Services Nicholson. Although I don’t personally blame him. He is just doing what he is told from the emperors chair.
Several councillors voiced rehearsed and feigned anger at the situation but they finished with a comment which basically said they had to take the loan out. Once the feigned anger crowd had finished Lorraine Gallagher called the vote on an amendment put forward by Cllr Barry Nevin that the price for the Three Trouts land should be renegotiated but it was defeated. To put a stop to this motion the council law agent made it clear that no renegotiation was possible and if pursued could end up with the figure being higher than €3 million. I’m assuming the senior management did not want this problem rumbling on and becoming a bigger media problem. Although on the face of it the legal advice seems sound.
Turkeys Vote For Christmas
The vote was then called by Lorraine Gallagher to put Wicklow County Council into hock for €3 Million for the land in three trouts in hope we can claim it back later. The motion passed by a huge margin which wasn’t unusual for a large Inner Sanctum membership council at the time.
No Real Enquiry
Since the passing of this motion several elected representatives have been appalled at what has happened and written directly to the minister looking for an enquiry. I have included one in the documentation below from Wicklow TD Anne Ferris who wrote directly to the minister. The only enquiries into the Three trouts debacle that were done were internal and as I have stated again and again not one person was held responsible for this mess. Yet again the people of Wicklow suck it up and pay for the mismanagement of our money and county council. Our services get cut and we just have to take it.
So today we are paying off this 7 year loan of €3 million for a piece of land in Three Trouts near Charlesland which is worth around €300K. A legacy debt of mismanagement which as I stated nobody at all has been held accountable for. Swept under the carpet like all the other mistakes. When our councillors voted to lower the property tax by 15% Eddie Sheehy said it would result in lower services which was rich considering he presided over this and other messes which have cost the county far more than the €2.5 million that the lowering of the property tax will cost.
Here are the official documents that show what I have described above including the minutes of the Council meeting approving the loan for the Three Trouts acquisition. Click on the 3 items below to read the official documentation yourself.