Council struck deal to sell public park it didnâ€™t own
By Karl Hanlon (Irish Examiner, 28/10/05)
LIMERICK City Council struck a deal to sell off part of a public park they didnâ€™t yet own to a developer.
Documents show the council agreed to "facilitate" a private development of the land nearly a full year before planning permission was granted to the company for a 59-unit apartment complex and a mix of retail/office space.
Freedom of Information documents show the local authority agreed in writing to sell part of the People's Park to Reidy Civil Engineering Ltd for â‚¬1.57 million as far back as 2002, even though it didn't own it at the time.
The land was, in fact, held in trust and covered by the terms of a 500-year lease entered into by the Earl of Limerick, the People's Park Trustees and Limerick Corporation in the 19th Century.
In January 2004, Limerick City Council formally completed the purchase of the site from both the People's Park Trustees and the Earl of Limerick's estate for â‚¬150,000 and later completed the sale of the same lands to the developer for â‚¬1.57m more than 10 times the price.
The sale of the 0.44 acre site was only formally approved by City Hall earlier this year.
Limerick city manager Tom Mackey denied yesterday that the price agreed was less than the market value of the land and said he was satisfied that the disposal of the land had been carried out properly.
A spokesman for Limerick City Council confirmed that the Department of the Environment had been in contact with the local authority's finance department seeking clarification on details of the sale of the land.
It is also understood that Environment Minister Dick Roche has been presented with a letter detailing many aspects of the disposal of the land by the council.
The sale was not put out to public tender and a slightly larger piece of land adjoining that purchased by Reidy Civil Engineering Ltd raised some â‚¬2.85m when it was sold to another developer on the open market.
Limerick City Council said there was nothing unusual in deciding against putting the site on the open market and said the sale price was reached on a "pro-rata" basis relative to the sale of the adjoining site.
Local residents raised strong objections to the controversial development on a site which they said had been given to the people of the city for use as a public park.
Independent city councillor Jim Long who first brought the controversy to light, said local residents were angry that it appeared that a deal was done without adequate public consultation.
Minister of State Tim O'Malley said yesterday: "The questions are there to be answered, and the day is long gone when deals like this could be done without the degree of accountability required."