Councillor compares Westport House situation to owning front garden but not the back

The chief executive of Mayo County Council this week reiterated that the council do not have the finances to buy Westport House and the portion of lands that was put up for sale last week by the owners of the house the Browne family. The shock announcement last week that the family had put the house on the market for a guide price of €10 million has led to increased fears for the future of the house as a tourist attraction going into the future.

The situation around the future of the house and estate is tied up in two separate issues — the first came to light late last year when around 400 acres of land on the estate was about to be sold by NAMA as part of the Project Arrow portfolio arising out of loans estimated in the region of €10 million. Those loans were removed from the sale at the last minute by NAMA following a large public outcry and intervention by Minister of State Michael Ring TD. Mayo County Council along the Western Development Commission and three different government departments, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have been involved in what was described as “delicate” talks since then in regards to purchasing those loans.

The proposed sale of the house and a separate 40 acres of land around the house was discussed at Monday’s meeting of Mayo County Council, when the councils chief executive Peter Hynes told the meeting that “On the question of the sale of private property, it is private property,and it is in the gift of the controllers to promote the sale.

“Our strategy is as a local authority and I’ve made it clear we do not have the finances or the resources to purchase this house. When we get involved we will need support for that involvement, but our strategy is to get ourselves as a local authority in a situation where we can influence the future of the estate and influence positively its retention as a tourism asset and a quality of life asset both for the town and county and region, because it is of that importance.”

Mr Hynes went on to say that he was limited in what he could say because of the delicate stage of the negotiations and a non disclosure agreement that was currently in place.

Fianna Fáil’s Westport based councillor Brendan Mulroy raised a number of issues surrounding the two separate processes ongoing at the meeting. Speaking at the meeting he said, “I suppose the question that has to be asked is that we don’t know at any given stage if the house is going to be sold and I suppose the chief executive doesn’t want to get involved in this and I appreciate that, but it is very important to put it out there.

“I find it quite curious, from what you said is that the council won’t have the finances to buy the house. So if we deal with that for a second. So, we’ll end up negotiating for 400 acres we’ll have that, I presume we’ll have that.

“But if the house is sold privately and in all fairness it probably will be, before we come back in for the next meeting, where does that leave us? It’s an interesting concept, it’s like buying a front garden and not being able to get to the back garden. The next question is, if the person who purchases the house, will they have access to get to the house, because we’ll own the land around it. I’m not too sure and I would say that maybe in our negotiations for the 400 acres, we should include the house in that negotiations,” he concluded

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