Kildare County Council has written to RTE asking it to justify the inclusion of a segment on the sale of land in Athgarvan on its show, RTE Investigates Council Chamber Secrets, which aired last week.
In a statement, the council said; “A communication was sent to the Chief Executive of RTE from the Acting Chief Executive of Kildare County Council requesting justification for the inclusion of the segment relating to the Athgarvan land disposal in the program as the program n demonstrated no wrongdoing on the part of the elected members or the executive of Kildare County Council in handling this matter.
As part of this broadcast on Wednesday March 23, the disposal of 0.796 acres of land by Kildare County Council was featured.
In its statement, the local authority said; “The program said it “highlighted certain issues, including allegations of fraud, corruption, waste of public funds, mismanagement, and lack of oversight and accountability,” but the segment relating to disposition of land by the elected members of County Kildare Council did not demonstrate any wrongdoing on the part of the elected members or the executive of the council On the contrary, the program demonstrated that the elected members, by accepting the surrender of land, had taken into account the objectives of the County Kildare Development Plan, as adopted by the elected members.
“The scheme implied that the land should have been considered a ransom strip, the reasoning being that it connects land zoned for residential development to a means of public road access. However, the County Kildare Development Plan contains a clear objective with regard to access to land.
The council pointed out that the plan states that “development should be designed so as not to interfere with the provision of vehicular or pedestrian access, or key infrastructure services on adjacent land. Development should also be designed in such a way as to ensure that “ransom tapes” will not prevent future development.
KCC said; “In relation to the Athgarvan land, the agreement of the elected officials to dispose of this land at an appropriate valuation, without regard to a ransom value, which would have contravened an objective of the county development plan such that adopted by elected members, facilitates the development of housing on land zoned for residential development, at a time when the delivery of much needed housing is a key priority for government, elected members and the county council executive of Kildare.
In the program, Cllr Fiona McLoughlin Healy said she was unhappy with the process surrounding the sale of the Athgarvan land. She said councilors had been asked to approve the sale of the land where social housing was to be built.
Planning permission had already been granted for the adjoining land and local council staff had reached a preliminary written agreement for an access road through the land connecting the adjoining site.
Cllr McLoughlin-Healy told the program councilors have the power to dispose of land, not the executive.
“It seemed to me that the communal executive usurped our authority,” she told RTE.
Cllr McLoughlin Healy said he got legal advice and his own appraiser, who came back with an estimate of more than €1,047,000. She said she was told that was a conservative estimate.
The council told RTE; “All information required by law was provided to councilors before the vote.”
It was also explained that the valuer had been instructed by council not to value the land as a ransom band, resulting in a value of €100,000.
“I can’t seem to make sense of all these documents and I have nowhere to go to find out if we’ve done a disservice to the community by selling this land for a low price,” Cllr McLoughlin Healy said.
She told the program she had asked an independent inspector to act as an arbiter, a route that is included in the Local Government Act that is over 20 years old. She discovered that this part of the law had not been signed.
RTE Investigates has been advised by the government that this section of the law has not been signed and there are no plans to do so due to concerns about costs, legal challenges and the power of a minister to dismiss councillors.
“Why hasn’t this started?” asked Cllr McLoughlin Healy.
She said there was no clear legal avenue for advisers to challenge these processes. RTE has been contacted for a response to the board’s statement.