OPW rejects Labour land purchase claims

THE Office of Public Works last night portrayed as a “distortion” a Labour Party claim that the cost of acquiring land for the decentralisation programme was double the cost of that paid for the new prison site in North Dublin.

While accepting that the average price paid by the OPW so far was €430,000 per acre - over twice the €200,000 per acre of the controversial Thornton Hall - a spokesman said that the Labour Party’s finance spokesperson Joan Burton was not comparing like with like.

The Thornton Hall land was agricultural, while a fair portion of the land acquired for new headquarters is based in cities and towns, the spokesperson said. Minister for State Tom Parlon, in a reply to a parliamentary question from Ms Burton, disclosed that the State had paid over €35 million to date acquiring land in 20 different locations outside Dublin.

Yesterday Ms Burton pointed out that it worked out at €430,000 per acre. That is over twice the amount paid per acre at Thornton Hall, the purchase price of which has led to a heated political row.

“This is a staggering amount to pay for a decentralisation scheme that threatens to become the biggest flop in the history of the State,” she said.

“It is clear that decentralisation was never costed, planned or targeted towards the public need.” However, the OPW last night countered by pointing out that Ms Burton was not being realistic with her interpretation of the figures.

“Sites have been acquired in remote areas, but also in areas near the centres of towns and cities.

“For example, a site acquired near the centre of Killarney cost €2 million per acre whereas land acquired in rural Longford cost only €70,000 per acre. “The fact that this was the average which came to €430,000 distorts the reality that there was a diversity of locations.”

The spokesperson said that the monies realised from disposing of State assets would more than balance the cost of acquiring land and building headquarters for Government departments and State agencies. He instanced the sale of the veterinary college in Ballsbridge for €100 million and the sale of Westgate near Heuston Station, which realised almost €45 million for the State.

The OPW has yet to acquire 33 sites of the 53 locations that were identified for decentralisation.

It is likely that the overall cost of acquiring land will approach €100 million.

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