‘AM I hearing right?’ was the startled response of Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) after a Council official said the local authority will not be pursuing plans to redevelop an historic railway building in Baltimore.
Senior executive officer MacDara O h-Icí told public representatives at a meeting of the West Cork Municipal District that the Council wrote to a local group, called Cuas, who had expressed an interest in using the building as a resource for the community, and asked them for a business plan.
Mr O h-Icí said the group came back with some information but it was ‘not a business plan about how to operate it,’ so the Council wrote to the owners of the property, Fáilte Ireland, saying ‘we no longer have an interest in the building.’
‘Just because someone didn’t come back with plans, the Council are now planning to walk away from the railway building in Baltimore?’ asked an incredulous Cllr Carroll.
Cllr Carroll was adamant that the Council must ‘reactivate this with Fáilte Ireland. We can’t just walk away from it,’ he said.
‘Baltimore is a booming spot and if the group is losing interest because of the obstacles put in their way we still cannot let a building of that historical interest fall into dereliction,’ he added.
Mr O h-Icí reminded the councillors that Fáilte Ireland only agreed to the group’s proposal if the building was leased to another public body – in this case Cork County Council – who would then sub-lease it to the group.
He said discussions and correspondence was ‘going over and back’ until October when the Council wrote to the community group requesting a business plan.
When it wasn’t forthcoming, Mr O h-Icí said, the Council informed Fáilte Ireland that there was no business plan, and that the Council was no longer interested in leasing the building under those circumstances.
Cllr Karen Coakley (FG), who previously tabled a motion calling for the Council to give the proposal its full support.
She said it was ‘very sad to think the Council are going to forget about that building. ‘It’s falling into disrepair,’ she said, ‘so we need to look at other options.’
Fáilte Ireland came in for some criticism from Cllr Paul Hayes (Ind). They have sat on this property for years,’ he said, ‘and don’t show any inclination of doing anything with it.’
Instead of kicking it back to Fáilte Ireland, Cllr Hayes said the Council ‘needs to do a bit more because there may be different groups with different ideas to bring new life into that building.’
Mr O h-Icí said the Council would write again to Fáilte Ireland ‘if that is the wish of the members.’
Barney Whelan, a board member of the Baltimore group, said that the issue has been ‘going on for eight years.’
He said the building – which in more recent years was used as a sailing training centre – is ‘actually derelict and is starting to fall apart.’
Cuas – which is the Irish word for a safe haven for vessels – is otherwise known as the West Cork Maritime Heritage Company.
Barney Whelan described it as a local, community-based group who are trying to develop a project of touristic value, which builds on the maritime heritage of West Cork.
‘The irony,’ he added, ‘is that this building is owned by Fáilte Ireland whose mandate is to develop tourism within the area.
‘At this stage, I am aware that Cork County Council have no interest anymore, but we are hoping to get the project back on track and have retained consultants to help us with the next steps.
‘What we sent to Cork County Council obviously did not suffice,’ he concluded, ‘so we intend to rectify that.’