Council officials unaware of film studios move

OFFICIALS of Wicklow County Council were unaware that allegations were being made that the location of Ardmore Studios in Bray could be moved unless a controversial rezoning proposal was adopted.

A spokesperson for the council confirmed yesterday that submissions by two different councillors to change the rezoning of 172-acres of farmland at Ballyhenry, near Ashford, contained no reference to Ardmore Studios.

It follows claims by architects acting on behalf of the landowner, Joe O'Connell, that the film studios were intending to move to the site near Ashford. A letter sent by Rowe McGill Architects of Rathmines, Dublin, to members of Wicklow County Council earlier this year claimed that approaches had been made by rival interests to attract the film studio to another location in Co Kildare. It warned that the benefits of the film industry could be lost to Wicklow if councillors didn't support the rezoning.

However, since the controversy erupted earlier this week, the managing director of Ardmore Studios, Kevin Moriarty, has rubbished claims that the company was seeking to move location to Ashford.

Mr Moriarty also criticised the fact that nobody from the local authority had contacted him to verify claims being made on behalf of Mr O'Connell.

However, a spokesperson for Wicklow County Council said yesterday that it had received no documentation in relation to the rezoning which contained a reference to Ardmore. She pointed out that local authorities were under no obligation to check information contained in proposals put forward by councillors as they were taken "as a matter of faith".

Green Party councillor Deirdre de Búrca said she hoped publicity surrounding the issue would get councillors to reconsider the rezoning when it comes up for final approval later this year.

"The whole justification for the rezoning now seems groundless," said Ms de Búrca.

Although she voted against the motion to rezone the lands at Ballyhenry last month, Ms de Búrca admitted that concerns about the future of Ardmore had probably been influential in persuading councillors to support it.

"Councillors were dealing with thousands of submissions at the time and they have to take things on face value," she added.

However, Ms de Búrca said the current controversy highlighted the absence of checks within the planning system which allowed elected representatives to make rezoning proposals which "had the potential to create millionaires".

She also pointed out that county manager Eddie Sheedy had opposed the rezoning on the basis that it was not in accordance with the overall development plan for Co Wicklow.

The landowner, Mr O'Connell has subsequently claimed that the references to Ardmore by his architect had been made "inadvertently".

The Fianna Fáil councillor who proposed the rezoning motion at a council meeting on July 12, Fachtna Whittle, is on holidays and unavailable for comment.

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