Watchdog drops probe into Lowry land interest

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has published the results of its investigation which decided Michael Lowry had no case to answer arising from his land interest in Wigan.

Watchdog drops probe into Lowry land interest

The probe had been triggered by a record number of complaints about the previously undeclared English property investment.

Sipo’s report included two independent but conflicting valuations of Mr Lowry’s 50% interest in 22 acres, which he hopes to develop with his business partner.

One of these reports, from Eckersley’s, said the site was worth little more than £11,000 every year since 2003, and therefore did not need to be declared.

The other, from Savills, said Mr Lowry’s interest was worth more than the disclosure threshold from 2005 onwards.

The commission said it also took into account Mr Lowry’s own valuation report. This said even at its peak, his interest was worth €86 below the €13,000 disclosure threshold.

Sipo decided on balance there was not enough evidence to justify an inquiry.

“[Savills’] valuation, when converted to euro, estimated that the property was worth below the disclosure threshold of €13,000 in 2003 and 2004, but exceeded it in subsequent years.

“[Eckersley’s] gave the same nominal value of £5,250 sterling for each year, which when converted to euro was substantially less than the threshold,” Sipo’s report said.

Both valuers described the site as “landlocked” and did not factor in the right of way it enjoys from a neighbouring housing estate.

Eckersley, who delivered the lower of the two valuations, recommended that the right of way be legally assessed before its value could be calculated. It said without this, it would have to give it a low agricultural- use value. Savills’ report was completed just days after details of the right of way emerged in February.

All three estimates were a fraction of the development value mooted by Mr Lowry’s property agent when he was approached by the Irish Examiner last year.

The valuations were also well below the asking price for the land that surrounds Mr Lowry’s holding.

Mr Lowry bought the property with hopes of securing a change to its zoning status. Eckersley’s said the likelihood of this happening in the short- to medium-term was remote.

Mr Lowry said a lot of money had been spent to investigate something which he never had to declare. He released a statement which said the Irish Examiner had published inaccurate estimates on its value.

“Journalists have an entitlement to probe in the public interest but also have an obligation to present the public with factual and correct information,” he said.

Yesterday, he told Tipp FM that the record number of complaints that triggered this investigation had been orchestrated.

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