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No secret garden for people of Westport


No secret garden for people of Westport

Town Manager rules out purchase of old bank site

Neill O’Neill

Westport Civic Trust’s hopes for the old walled garden at the disused Bank of Ireland building (Dower House) on the town’s South Mall were dashed last week. The trust had hoped that Westport Town Council would buy the garden, but Town Manager Martin Keating last week revealed that the funds were simply not available.
The issue surrounding the bank garden and the provision of a walled garden for Westport has been on the agenda for over a decade. The Civic Trust had made a presentation to the town council on its proposals at the November monthly meeting of the local authority.
Having had a month to consider its wide-ranging proposal for the site, most councillors agreed that it would be great to have such a facility in the town, as did the town manager. However, Cllr Brendan Mulroy said that ethically, he had a problem with the idea of the town council buying the site, as the town council itself had de-zoned the land, therefore devaluing it. It could not simply ‘come around the back a few years later and purchase it’, he said.
“Morally, ethically and legally I have a problem with this,” he said, reiterating his sentiments on the matter from last April when the project was also discussed. “A private person bought this property at a premium price, and for a reason, because it was zoned a certain way … In de-zoning it since that purchase we have significantly devalued their asset. We cannot just go and buy it now. I would have huge issues with this,” he said, calling for legal advice to be sought.
Cllr Christy Hyland called for a delegation from the council to ‘enter into serious negotiations’ with the auctioneer, and he was backed by Cllr Martin Keane on this.
Martin Keating said he disagreed with the suggestion that the site was the last green space in Westport, but he admitted it was a desirable project, one that any town would love to have. He went on to outline investments the council has made in social infrastructure, pointing out that it was leaving a huge list of legacies behind.
“We have commitments on our capital investment funds [Westport Town Hall, Convent of Mercy site etc] and no short-term lending options available, and I cannot envisage us being in a position to buy it,” he said. He added that while he was open to the idea, there was little funding from the Civic Trust to get the project off the ground.
In relation to Cllr Hyland’s proposal, he said that he would not approach the seller knowing he would not be in a position to go anywhere with the plan.
Cllr Myles Staunton encouraged the Civic Trust to return with a plan, and quickly, as he felt there was no chance of getting this proposal considered when the town council is abolished in May. However, Cllr Mulroy once again voiced his sentiments, at difference with his elected colleagues.
“I thank the manager for setting out the position so let’s move on,” he said. “If we go down this road we will have another group in looking for us to buy something else next week. We got the land zoned to a position where it could be bought, and the Civic Trust were supposed to go and buy it and raise funds in the community to do so. That never happened, so let’s not throw this all back on the council now, as we have done things in the past to facilitate this.”