Causeway Coast and Glens: councillors push for ‘special meeting’ on land deals exposed in audit report to be brought forward

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Councillors are attempting to bring forward a “special meeting” to discuss a damning report that exposed the role of senior officials in land deals for luxury hotels.

An ‘extraordinary audit’ into the handling of land transactions by the Causeway Coast and Glens council found two deals for land that had been sought after for hotel developments may not have been lawful.

One deal was for the granting of an easement for lands in Portstewart for £1, and another was the sale of land for a different hotel for £5,000.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The audit report directed sharp criticism towards the conduct of several senior council officials, including the chief executive David Jackson.

The Stormont Minister responsible for overseeing local government in Northern Ireland, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, has warned the council that she is seeking legal advice and is prepared to step in if the council fails to take action.

The largest grouping on the council, the DUP, has indicated it may now be prepared to take action after having previously resisted calls to do so when an earlier report had upheld complaints about the chief executive’s role in the £1 land deal to facilitate the hotel proposal in Portstewart.

A special council meeting has now been scheduled for later this month, with the extraordinary audit report the only item on the agenda.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But a group of councillors are now attempting to bring that meeting forward.

Sixteen councillors, drawn from the Alliance Party, SDLP, Sinn Fein and independents, have now signed a request to hold the meeting within seven days.

Independent Councillor Padraig McShane, who has been at the forefront of calls for a forensic audit of all the council’s finances for several years, and who last year delivered a 170-page presentation to Stormont officials on one of the land deals heavily criticised by the local government auditor in her report, said the council must now take firm action.

“It’s good that different groups have recognised the anger among the local community and grouped together to call this special meeting,” he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He added: “Council must be seen to take the evidence seriously and not simply pour platitudes on it while taking no action.”

Stephanie Quigley, another independent councillor who has also been pushing for several years for further investigation of the council’s finances, was amongst those to have backed calls for the special meeting to be brought forward.

“We now have to act as a matter of urgency,” she told the News Letter. “We have a responsibility to ratepayers.”

Culture to ‘get deals done’

The local government auditor, in a damning report into the Causway Coast and Glens council’s handling of land deals, said there was a culture of “bypassing best practice and guidance to get land ‘deals done’ which set the wrong tone from the top of the organisation”. She criticised the conduct of several senior officials, and recommended the council take “appropriate action”.

See also