Marina project has not been plain sailing


AFTER nine years of preparation, this October should be a good time for the development team at Wicklow County Council.

Contracts for the sale of two parcels of land to facilitate a £50 million marina at the north beach in Greystones are due to be exchanged, allowing detailed planning on the "dream project" to go ahead. However, as the nine years the project has been under consideration have proven, the establishment of the marina is turning out to be anything but plain sailing.

Wicklow County Council first mooted the possibility of a marina at Greystones in 1987, when a feasibility study was carried out and a site identified at the north beach and harbour area. Discussions were entered into with a Dublin firm, Tracey Enterprises, and according to the council, other competent firms to establish some form of partnership on the project.

By the time the Isle of Man based businessman, Mr Albert Gubay, spoke at a public meeting in Greystones a year ago, he had replaced Tracey Enterprises as the council's main suitor and the plan had become an ambitious £50 million project.

It envisaged a 300 berth marina, along with a 100 bedroom hotel, a leisure complex, five blocks of apartments and town houses and a fisherman's wharf style commercial development.

The plan also included much coastal protection work in an area notorious for erosion. The cliff walk from Bray to Greystones earmarked for refurbishment runs through the site, with the Greystones railway line running along the boundary.

During the 1995 Wicklow by election, when the government announced the extension of the DART service to Greystones commercial and property interests in the town were elated.

Speaking at the meeting in Greystones a year ago, Mr Gubay defended an ambitious time scale for the detailed planning, consultation and construction of the marina, part of which would have seen the sale of two parcels of land to his company, Kirkham Enterprises, concluded by this month.

Wicklow County Development Manager, Mr Tom Broderick, also confirmed last week that the county council "would have hoped to have moved from the proposed contract stage to `contract stage' by the end of October", although he cautioned that the contracts for the sale of the land would have to be approved by the county councillors.

The difficulty seems to concern the sale of one parcel of land some 23 acres at Killincarrig - at the southern end of the town. Mr Gubay has reached tentative agreement with the council to sell him this land, with planning permission for housing, for a reduced price in the region of £700,000. This element of the project has become known as the "sweetheart deal", a move which would allow Mr Gubay to generate working capital to finance the start of the marina construction. He says that this is necessary, as the proposed breakwater for the marina needs to be built first, at an estimated cost of about £9 million.

According to Mr Broderick, this is not an unreasonable request, given the costs of coastal protection and the marina's obvious benefits to the community. However, local councillors have insisted that guarantees are written into the contract ensuring that profits from the housing development are invested in the marina project.

Mr Broderick acknowledges that this is a difficult contract to write and that there are "certain aspects of the proposed contract which are causing us concern".

He says of the negotiations: "Our objective is to have the marina built. The objective of the other party must be the same.

The negotiations were not helped by the news that Mr Gubay is seeking a High Court ruling forcing the administrators of Tracey Enterprises to stand over an agreement which he claims to have had with the late Jack Tracey to sell him an option on land adjacent to the marina.

This move has "surprised" Wicklow County Council and Mr Broderick says the land, known locally as "the fox lands is not part of the marina project, most of the land for which is already in public ownership.

Local fishermen and harbour users have insisted they must be consulted on the plans for the marina and questions have also been raised by the Leinster Green MEP, Nuala Ahern, a resident of Greystones.

She claims the county council has been less than forthcoming with elected representatives on the details of the marina project and has asked for "more transparency".

She also points out that the councillors have yet to see a planning application for the marina, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or any detailed costing. She has also called for the whole marina development to be put out to public tender.

However, Mr Broderick says that Mr Gubay's company will not invest a lot of money in a planning application and an EIS until the contracts are signed.

He reiterates that the "eventual terms must be agreed by the members of Wicklow County Council. It is a function of the elected members to dispose of land. Nothing will happen until agreement is reached".