No regrets after deal debacle

Craigavon's new Councillor Johnny McGibbon. LM32-135gc
Craigavon's new Councillor Johnny McGibbon. LM32-135gc
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A LURGAN councillor has slammed colleagues for supporting the £24,000 price tag for land at Asda’s site when it eventually netted the borough almost £100,000.

Ratepayers may have been short changed almost £75,000 had the first deal gone ahead.

Sinn Fein Cllr Johnny McGibbon voiced ‘grave concerns’ over what he described as the DUP’s ‘haste’ to accept the £24k price.

“The DUP proposed handing over the land for less than a third of the recommended land value,” said Cllr McGibbon.

It was revealed this week that a decision by Craigavon Councillors to accept a sum of £24,000 was much less than the land was worth.

A report to the October meeting of Council on Monday night produced a revised figure of £90,000.

It is understood that in August, the DUP and SDLP voted to accept the lesser sum of £24,000 and the decision was carried on the casting vote of the DUP Mayor Carla Lockhart.

Cllr McGibbon said: “The public will rightly ask, why were the DUP and SDLP so anxious to accept the reduced payment at the expense of the ratepayer? The decision was taken against the advice of Council officers who had advised that all information regarding the land valuation was not forthcoming.

“The District Land Valuer was not prepared to recommend a figure. Sinn Féin had argued that the transfer should not proceed until all information was available. This second report has vindicated that position.

“DUP Cllr Anderson MLA, told Council that to proceed with a figure of £24,000 was a ‘no-brainer’. Now that the District Valuer has recommended a figure almost four times that, we have to ask where did this £24,000 fee really come from? We have grave concerns as to why the DUP put Council at risk of an Audit Office investigation by so vigorously arguing to accept the lower value,” he claimed.

“We all have a responsibility to get the best value for our ratepayers and act in the best interests of council. In this case those who voted to accept a sum much less than the true value of the land were acting against the interests of the ratepayers.”

However DUP and SDLP councillors said they have “no regrets” for supporting the £24,000 price tag estimated for the Asda land a fortnight ago “based on the information available at the time”.

Alderman Sydney Anderson (DUP) and Councillor Joe Nelson (SDLP) said there was a danger that Asda might have abandoned the Edenderry project, had the land for the storm drain outlet not been transferred quickly. He added that the £24,000 was a commercial estimate at the time, and that no definitive valuation had been made.

The two councillors insisted their first and last consideration was to protect the 450 jobs and the multi-million pound investment by the company “not to mention the extra revenue created in the way of rates”.

Alderman Anderson said: “The original decision (to accept the £24,000) was made on the facts presented on the night. Not to proceed would have placed the whole Asda project in jeopardy, with the possibility of losing the 450 jobs and the generation of the whole Edenderry area, not to mention the revenue that Asda would generate in rates for the borough.

“Edenderry had lain derelict for many years, and maybe it would be Councillor McGibbon’s desire to see this area of Portadown continue to be neglected, while seeing Portadown Public Park regenerated at a cost of £7m. As a public representative for Portadown, I will not allow this to happen to Edenderry. I and my party make no apology for the original decision.”

Councillor Nelson insisted that he, too, made the decision based on the information available, adding that the £90,000 estimate on Monday night was based, not on the commercial price, but on the fact that Asda had been made “an alternative offer from another party for the storm drain route at £100,000”.

He added, “My information is that the alternative route would have held up the Asda project and we had to move quickly. Legal advice was that the decision could not be made because of jobs or investment, but on purely the legal aspect, and that’s why the SDLP changed its vote. But I have to say that, based on the original information available, I would do the same thing again. Under no circumstances could we have placed in jeopardy such a major investment, so many jobs and the regeneration of any area of Craigavon.”