Concern grows for the future of westport house estate
MAYO County Council is in discussions with the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) in relation to the future of Westport House estate.
And if a positive outlook from those discussions has not been delivered by Monday next (October 19), the council plans to debate having the State take over the facility at its meeting that afternoon.
At a special convening of the council's Economic Development and Enterprise Support strategic policy committee today (October 14), concern was expressed that the Westport House estate would fall into the hands of a private investor who would use it as a plaything to visit once or twice a year.
Such a development would be met with protest by the people of Westport, warned Councillor Christy Hyland, who said Westport House and the town itself are joined at the hip.
He added: “What Muckross House is to Killarney, Westport House is to Westport. As a public representative, I won't stand over Westport House being closed to the public - and it won't be.”
Councillor Hyland suggested the money necessary to acquire the property now under NAMA control, estimated to be in the region of €10 to €12 million, could be borrowed by Mayo County Council. “It has borrowed money in the past for less important things,” he stated.
However, it was agreed that the best course of action would be to get Mayo County Council to invoke a clause in the NAMA Act that might allow Westport House, as a property of strategic importance, to be removed from its 'Project Arrow' portfolio. Thereafter the State should acquire the Westport House properties and charge Mayo County Council with running the facility, perhaps through a management company.
“The only one who can make that decision (to buy the asset) is the State, the Minister for Finance,” said Councillor Michael Kilcoyne, chairperson of the committee. “The only way you can prevent a private individual with money from buying it is to treat it as a strategic piece of infrastructure.”
The committee resolved that in the absence of a positive update on the discussions with NAMA on Monday, the matter will be discussed and the proposal put forward to get the State to acquire Westport House.
Committee member and Westport native Neill O'Neill said the 'real tragedy' is that Westport House estate is actually profitable now. He added that Westport Town Council probably had enough money in its kitty to acquire the property before it was abolished, and yet Mayo County Council does not have the resources now to buy it.
Council director of services Joanne Greham said the objective of the tourism unit within the local authority is to grow visitor numbers to Mayo to match those of Clare and Kerry in the next three to five years. “We feel very strongly that Westport House, as a tourism attraction, is an asset we don't want to see closed.”
Ms. Greham made reference to a recent Westport House economic impact study prepared for the council which showed that in the year up to the end of September last year, the facility contributed almost €1.68m to the exchequer and in terms of economic value generated by the estate, over €50m will be spent in Mayo and the wider region by consumers visiting it this year.
You can read more about the report here.
Meanwhile, a public meeting on the issue of the future of Westport House estate is to take place in the auditorium of the Town Hall Theatre next Tuesday (October 20) at 7.30 p.m. All are welcome.