Attempted delay to sell Laois council land to a growing Mountmellick business

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Laois County Council HQ Portlaoise

Attempted delay to sell council land to a growing Laois business

A piece of council land in Laois is to be sold to an expanding local company, despite an attempted delay by a councillor who is concerned that the price is too low.
The serviced 3 hectare (7.5 acres) site is in Junction 17 National Enterprise Park, and is to be bought by Midland Steel Reinforcement Supplies Ltd, a Mountmellick company.
The land sale was proposed by Cllr Paddy Bracken from Mountmellick, seconded by Cllr Ollie Clooney.
Cllr Bracken said he had been assured by the company’s manager Tony Woods that the existing jobs in Mountmellick will not be lost.
He said that the company employs 80 people directly, and another 60 on contracts, at Bay Road Business Park.
“It is great to see a company like this doing what they are doing, working all over the UK, progressing. They have a very progressive manager,” he said.
However, before it could be agreed at the March meeting of Laois County Council, another councillor said she had concerns.
The price of €562,400 plus VAT for the site is too low, claimed Cllr Aisling Moran, who proposed delaying agreeing to the sale for a month, asking the council to give a breakdown of full costs.
“We need to get the market value. I did research and land is making €150,000 an acre. We are getting half of what we should be getting. Half a million would make a huge difference to roads or disability services. We are completely underselling ourselves.
“This is prime commercial land. I contacted Amazon to ask them to set up a distribution hub. Look at the jobs it would create. I propose we come back to this next month. I want to see all costs associated with this,” she said.

Cllr Bracken disagreed.
“We are sending a message that the company is not paying enough. That message is a disgrace. We are trying to encourage business and here’s a councillor that sees fit to oppose it,” he said.

Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland defended the sale and their development and promotion of Togher as a business and industrial hub for Ireland.

“It is four years this month since you decided to purchase land at Togher that we got at a very good price. We have disposed of 16.5 hectares with this new sale and I wish the companies every success. Glanbia has 11 acres with an option on another 6 to expand. We also have Alphadrive, Aubren and now Midland Steel.
“If things go well this means 270 new jobs in Portlaoise, only on half the land we own. There is another 10 or 11 acres left to dispose.
“Since we started with our business support unit, and with the IDA we have put out the positive message that Laois is a competitive destination with a capable workforce. We have had companies from the UK and China come and look, kick the tyre and walk away. In my view, a bird in the hand is worth more. We might be lucky to get a big global business in Portlaoise and I hope we do. But we have to keep stocktaking,” he said.

The council CEO also defended the agreed price.
“Who knows what the market rate is. We spoke to Midland Steel last July and once we mentioned a price we had to stick to it.
“This is a good solid success story for Portlaoise and Laois. Each development pays developer contributions that go to the local infrastructure like playgrounds and libraries. It is being done with fairness at a competitive price,” he said.
Mr Mulholland said they have not engaged an auctioneer. It was considered an unnecessary spend.

In reply, Cllr Moran said she still wanted a full costing, including what it cost to put in roads and services, and legal costs.

Many councillors had disagreed with Cllr Moran. Cllr Paschal McEvoy said he was “baffled” why she came out with her statement.
“It is not all about money, the view is to bring business to Laois. It has been done to a T from start to finish. I am lost for words,” he said.

Cllr Willie Aird who is a farmer in Portlaoise said that the land price is at market value, that more is for sale and the site is “a jewel in the crown for Laois.
“It is unfair, it is not right that you state we are stockpiling land, it’s not correct,” he said.

The Cathaoirleach Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald said that Laois companies needed the opportunity.
“It is not being given away for nothing, it is a reasonable amount. They will pay rates in future and employ local people,” she said.

However Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley said while she support the land sale, that “as a female it is important that any member woman or man raising a genuine question is treated with respect and her concerns addressed by the CEO”.

Cllr Noel Tuohy said he had faith in the CEO and his team to do appropriate deals but that Cllr Moran is entitled to ask for details.

Cllr Thomasina Connell seconded Cllr Moran’s proposal.
“She is entitled to clarification,” she said.
The proposal to delay the decision a month then went to a vote by the councillors and was defeated by 14 votes to two.