Funds from sale of lands in Ballina can not be ring-fenced for spending in local area

The location of the lands to be sold by Mayo County Council

The location of the lands to be sold by Mayo County Council

The sale by Mayo County Council of two plots of land in Ballina town to Aldi Stores (Ireland ) Ltd - consisting of 0.012 hectares and 0.134 hectares located at the Teeling Street car park, was approved by Mayo County Council this week.

However, despite the wishes of the elected members from the Ballina Municipal District who approved the sale at the June meeting on condition that the €380,000 the council would receive be retained for spending on capital works projects in the area - they were informed at the meeting that money can not be retained solely for use in Ballina.

Independent Cllr Mark Duffy raised the issue saying: "This was approved at municipal level - with the caveat that the funds of the sale would be retained for use on projects in the Ballina area - I understood that would be in place now."

Fine Gael's Cllr John O'Hara proposed the sale, before later withdrawing the proposal after he was told that the condition could not be met.

"We agreed in Ballina it would be ring-fenced for the area and that was my understanding and I would like to think it would stand, we are looking for this to be spent in the town and I think it is only fair that this money be put back into our area."

This was supported by Fianna Fáil Cllr Annie May Reape, who added: "We have been talking about this for a long time, for 17-18 years it has been sitting derelict - we did agree that the money would be ring fenced and that is not a big ask to have it ring fenced."

Her party colleague Cllr Michael Loftus suggested that there was a precedent set for something similar, saying: There is a precedent there for land that was sold in Killala and that money has been ring-fenced for Killala and to be told that the money here can not be ring-fenced for Ballina, I do not agree. I will be saying the €380k must be ring-fenced for the area."

However, Peter Hynes, chief executive of Mayo County Council, stated that the council could not ring-fence the money for Ballina, saying: "The item on the agenda is to approve it or not, it is your choice - it is a reserved function and I am delighted I have no responsibility to bear in this whatsoever. The question of whatever discussion happened at municipal district level and agreements - you can ask that it be ring-fenced, but the reality is that it can not. We are a local authority, we have a single capital account, we have projects that are funded from that capital account - and we decide as an authority for the county which ones proceed and which ones do not. It is not possible to ring-fence the proceeds of sale from one municipal district to be used in that municipal district, it would not be possible to run four municipal district capital accounts in any realistic way."

As for the precedent that Cllr Loftus suggested existed, the chief executive added: "The precedent that Cllr Loftus referred to was that there was an agreement about the procurement of the land in the first instance, it was bought by us as an asset, with conditions attached. That is not the case in what is in front of you nor is it in the vast majority of cases - that's as simple as it is."

Cllr O'Hara withdrew his proposal to approve the item and suggested that it go back to the municipal district for further discussion, which was also encouraged by the Cathaoirleach Cllr Brendan Murlroy and the chief executive. However with the council being told the answer would be the same even if that happened, Cllr Annie May Reape stated: "There is no point us kicking this down the road again, it will be the same result regardless - what is the point of having this at our meeting in a few weeks time?

"We have a developer here who is looking to develop this site, we should be looking at that first - it is derelict and right in the centre of the town. We have heard the manager, it is not going to change, no matter what we say here today or in two weeks time in Ballina - there is one account and central funds go there. I have to take that."

Her party whip, Cllr Damien Ryan, proposed the sale, saying: "In light of the fact advice has come from the executive and the issue with single account - while large towns have issues, I come from a small town and we have issues as well. It is important that the money is allocated equally around the county in light of the fact the issue is a section 183 - the clarification has been sought. it is an area of concern and the development would be welcome. I propose the section 183 proceed."

There was no counter proposal to his motion and it was passed by the council.

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