‘Worthless’ Lowry land still worth at least €100k

Michael Lowry has said he did not declare a 22-acre land asset in England because it was “worthless”.

“It’s land that’s totally overgrown. It’s not useful for anything unless it’s rezoned, it has no value as it stands,” he said in a radio interview last week.

But when the Irish Examiner looked to buy the site, it was told an offer of £300,000 an acre (€6.7m for the entire site) would be cheap considering it could fit up to 216 houses.

The 22-acre patch of land is currently the subject of rezoning proposals with Wigan Council.

Mr Lowry has admitted it was bought with this potential in mind. Initially, he secured options on more than 200 acres of surrounding land with a view to developing the entire area.

Accounts show that his former development company, Vineacre, spent over £108,000 (€135,000) in fees and costs to purchase these options.

However, the plans were thwarted by access issues and an alternative to build a service area did not proceed. The options expired.

Currently, Mr Lowry claims the land is “valueless”. He said it is unlikely it will benefit from the imminent five-year Wigan development plan, but hopes it will get the go-ahead for development in subsequent drafts.

Two proposals for Mr Lowry’s property have been aired by Wigan Council in the last year. They have linked the site to a proposed new employment park and a residential zone to cope with future demand in Wigan.

Even if the land is not rezoned, a report from the council deemed the site and the surrounding area to be arable. It also said that downgrading its greenbelt status would not be as harmful as at other locations.

The land agent handling the site for Mr Lowry was contacted by the Irish Examiner under the guise of a speculator interested in buying out the North Tipperary TD and his partner, Liam Carroll.

The agent was not aware of last week’s controversy and said there 18 acres, out of the 22 acres on the site, that were suitable for development.

He said it would be sold with that in mind.

“If you can get it for £300,000 an acre you are doing well. But everything has got a price,” he said.

When the same agent was contacted later and told about the false premise for the original call, he said its full value depended on planning discussions that were under way.

He said it was likely that that particular site would be rezoned for residential uses and that it had more in its favour than other options nearby.

However, he said this was not guaranteed. The future of the site was contingent on the decisions reached by Wigan Council. He warned that anybody buying the site would have to speculate on a “hope value” as well as its inherent agricultural value.

He said that if the site was never rezoned it would only fetch £4,000 (€5,000) an acre.

This basement valuation, assuming the site is ignored in future development plans for Wigan, is still important.

It would value the entire property at more than €100,000.

On this basis Mr Lowry’s share would be at least €50,000, well above the €13,000 threshold required under the Register of Members Interests for TDs.

That possibility ignores the speculative value in the property which interested Mr Lowry and his partner in the first place.

The site was bought in 2001 by a company owned by Mr Lowry and Mr Carroll called Vineacre Ltd.

The company was removed from the deeds in 2003 and replaced with the names of Mr Lowry and Mr Carroll. It has not been declared by the former Fine Gael minister since.

Last week, the Irish Times reported that, after it was acquired, a small portion of the site was sold by Mr Lowry and Mr Carroll for £750,000.

In recent years, planners in Wigan have identified a residential and employment land shortfall and have looked to earmark preferred growth sites for 2026.

Over the past 18 months, Mr Lowry’s land in Wigan has been considered for both uses.

Last week a planning official in Wigan Council told the Irish Independent that the property is unlikely to be part of the new employment park, even if the adjoining site is included.

However, when pitching the site, Mr Lowry’s agent said the Vineacre property had better prospects as a location for houses than the employment park.

“Basically, if Cranberry Lea Farm [the large land bank beside Mr Lowry’s site] gets permission, the Vineacre piece is bound to get permission, because it is the infill. You know, it is a piece of land that they are not going to leave. It is definitely going to get zoning,” he said.

In July, Wigan Council assessed its worth as a continued green belt but said removing the protection would not result in the same level of harm as other locations.

The report said its scope was less valuable as a recreation than other sites and that the area could house 900 units by 2026.

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