A decision on the sale of the 1.9 hectare Royal Tara China site in Mervue has been deferred after city councillors raised concerns that the figure agreed of €535,000 was not good enough for such a prime site.
At Monday’s Galway City Council meeting it was agreed to defer the decision until more information could be provided. Councillors were informed that Royal Tara Holdings Ltd had approached the council with a request to purchase the land and that because of the leases that were entered into in the 1950s the local authority has a legal obligation to allow the purchase.
The property was leased to Royal Tara under four separate leases of durations varying from 200 to 500 years. Director of services Joe O’Neill said that legal opinion was sought on the request by Royal Tara Holdings to sell the property, and it was confirmed the council is obliged to sell the freehold interest once the price exceeds market valuation. The valuation of the property, which is zoned for enterprise, industry, and related uses, was carried out by an external consultant and based on market values. Mr O’Neill recommended to proceed with disposing of the freehold interest to Royal Tara Holdings Limited for the agreed sum of €535,000 with the proceeds of the sale being used to pay the city council’s share of the purchase of the Galway Airport site in Carnmore.
Airing his reservations, Cllr Padraig Conneely (FG ) said the value of €535,000 was “not enough” for such a fine location and a site of 1.9 hectares in size. “This is a very cheap price for a fantastic site with financially worthwhile zoning,” said Cllr Conneely.
Echoeing this view, Cllr Frank Fahy (FG ) said that selling a prime site for “very small money” in the middle of a recession “makes no sense to me”.
Refusing to support the sale, Cllr Michael Crowe (FF ) said: “It’s not in the best interest of the people of Galway. If we agree to sell for that the owners are going to twist it and make a fortune at our expense. There is a better way to negotiate a better price. It’s 1.9 hectares, you can build a lot of houses with that.”
In response, Mr O’Neill said it was a “very unusual situation” in that the law states the sale of council land cannot proceed without the approval of councillors but the lease owners have a legal right that was agreed in the 1950s. “This land cannot be sold on the open market. The legal advice is the people who own the lease are entitled to purchase the site,” he said.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind ) called for the matter to be deferred until the file showing how the lease was agreed and a report is made available. Cllr Peter Keane (FF ) also called on the executive to investigate the possibility of the council buying out the leases while Cllr Conneely queried if the site could be used for residential development.