Prime land sale to attract big interest

The largest land deal in Co Cork in 2004 was the acquisition of 180 acres, close to Mallow town, by developer John Barry, of Castlelands Construction, when he paid a record €40m for level tillage ground off St Joseph’s Road.

Mr Barry, a farmer-turned-builder, purchased land from his neighbour, Denis Crowley, in a location that made sense at that time — it was on the town boundary for Mallow.

Now, it looks likely that the vendor, Mr Crowley, could become the purchaser of the same land, which has a price of €2.25m.

And, also back in 2004, Ray Grehan, of Glenkerrin Homes, purchased The Grange, in Stillorgan, for €85m — the equivalent of €7.5m an acre and the last step towards hyper-inflation that would culminate in Sean Dunne’s ‘pick a number’ bid for the Jury’s Ballsbridge site and a pay-out of €380m for a seven-acre site — the equivalent of €54m per acre.

But that was then and this is now.

And the same Mallow lands that made €220,000 per acre are back on the market for an asking price believed to be in the region of €12,500 per acre, just slightly above average for agricultural land.

And it’s hardly surprising that the frontline purchaser may be over the bounds ditch. In fact, in a nice twist, Denis Crowley is already farming the land, having had it in conacre for some time — part of a total of close on 1,000 acres, mostly in tillage.

The Crowley family has holdings spread over Cork and Tipperary, (the ‘stick to the knitting’ advice is always sound).

It’s believed that Mr Crowley Sr has recently purchased a prime, 200-acre residential farm near Ballyclerihan, in Tipperary, which is now under a planning application, for buildings associated with a new dairy business.

Although a tillage farmer, Mr Crowley is not averse to dairy farms, having purchased the largest offering in the south last year.

Mr Crowley purchased the Caherduggan demesne in the last days of Dec 2011, but subsequently, and suddenly, sold on the property to the underbidder.

The underbidder is an experienced dairy farmer who is also in receipt of a development-land war chest and who snapped up the farm, but at a lower price, it’s believed, than the €4.7m originally paid.

Savills, Cork, is unwilling to discuss this private-treaty sale at Mallow, saying they didn’t have clearance for editorial purposes, but they are quoting a figure in the region of €12,500 per acre for interested parties.

Savills is also the agent who brokered the sale of 450 acres at Douglas and Ballinrea, Cork, in late April of this year, for John and Elaine Barry, of Castlelands Construction, and for Nama.

The land, which was purchased for sums ranging from €60,000 to €300,000 an acre in the mid-2000s, sold quietly to a dairy farmer from north west of Cork City for a per-acre sum in the region of €15,000 to €20,000; or, depending on whom one talks to, a total of between €5m to €7m.

The sale created controversy at the time, because sitting tenants and neighbouring farmers said they were not offered an opportunity to bid on the lands.

Nama’s response, at the time, was that the sale was between the debtors and the agent involved and that the sale price achieved was above the valuation received.

The insistence that the property be sold in the entire was also given as a reason for the elimination of certain bidders.

“The fact that the property was sold as one lot, rather than as fragmented lots, was also a consideration from the debtor’s perspective,” said a Nama source.

At the time, however, it stirred a hornet’s nest among landowners and local politicians.

“A landholding of this size and importance should not be sold without being put to the open market,” said Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman and local TD, Michael McGrath, back then, and he also criticised aspects of the sale, which he said lacked transparency.

The Mallow land is being offered in two lots of 100 and 80 acres, respectively, and while it’s good, level tillage ground with excellent road frontage, it also carries special zoning under the 2007 Local Area Plan.

However, it is highly unlikely any development will begin here in the long-term — if at all.

It will be up to the neighbouring farmers, now, to show their mettle when it comes to this sale — which has been advertised publicly.

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