Department and council planned project on land they did not own
It has emerged that nearly €1m of taxpayers’ money was wasted by the Department of the Environment and Cork County Council in planning a now defunct 100-house and village development on land neither of them ever owned.
The latest twist in the saga of the planned village at Dararra, near Clonakilty, emerged yesterday after a councillor sought a report on exactly what went wrong with the plan.
Senior council staff admitted the project is now dead in the water, but fears have been expressed over how the local authority can finally extricate itself from it without the Department of the Environment seeking the €822,000 it spent on its design — even though it was the department which initiated the scheme.
Assistant county manager James Fogarty — who was not in that role when the Dararra project was being developed in 2006 — told Fine Gael councillor John O’Sullivan his investigations showed the 9.6-hectare site earmarked for the development was never transferred to the council’s ownership.
Eight years ago, the Department of Agriculture had instructed the agricultural college which owns the land to hand it over for housing.
However, this never happened, despite the Department of the Environment and the council going ahead in the interim with plans to create social/affordable housing, a pub, shops, and crèche/primary school on the site, which is 3.5km from Clonakilty.
It was government policy at the time to create model villages for such types of housing, but that has since changed. The council also spent €110,000 progressing the plan.
Initially, 180 people expressed interest in moving to Dararra, but a more recent survey by the council showed nobody now wanted to go there.
On hearing the ownership was never transferred and that more land would have been needed to provide a waste treatment facility, Mr O’Sullivan described it as “the stuff of science fiction”.
“This is one holy mess. It’s absolutely mind-boggling. I’m shocked at what we have heard,” said Mr O’Sullivan, who was not a councillor when the plan was first mooted.
He proposed the plan be officially abandoned. However, that will require councillors go through a lengthy process to dezone the land.
This is likely to entail them making a formal declaration which would be enshrined in the Local Area Plans. However, they can not do that until the LAPs are revised which is due to be next year.
Mr O’Sullivan said the land should be handed back to the agricultural college to establish a third-level campus, as it currently could not cope with demand.
Mr Fogarty reminded him that the land was still in the ownership of the college and over the past eight years it had used it.
Fianna Fáil councillor Danny Crowley said it was “alarming” what was spent on a white elephant, while Fine Gale councillor Jerry Sullivan voiced concern that if the plan was cancelled, the Department of the Environment might look to the county council to recoup its expenditure.
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