THE proposed sale of lands at Castlefreke by forestry agency Coillte to the Castle’s owner, Stephen Evans Freke, has fallen through.
According to a report on junior Minister Jim Daly’s Facebook page this afternoon, Coillte has pulled out of the deal.
‘Following my recent meeting with officials within Coillte,’ he said, ‘I have been advised that a decision has been made not to proceed with the sale of the land at Rathbarry/Castlefreke.’
A campaign had gathered steam in recent weeks, in opposition to the planned sale, called ‘Castlefreke – Our Woods Our Walks’ as the organisers feared that the transfer of ownership may have resulted in restricted access to the popular woodland walks.
The organisers were planning a second public meeting in Rosscarbery next Monday night.
The suggested sale was a three-way negotiation between Stephen Evans Freke of nearby Castle Freke, Cork County Council and Coillte.
Reacting to the news today, Dominic Carroll of Castlefreke Our Woods Our Walks told The Southern Star: 'We are delighted to hear the news and we received an email from Coillte earlier to inform us that the sale would not proceed.’
He said Monday's meeting will still go ahead. ‘We want to update people on what is actually happening. Also, there is nothing to say that this request to Coillte won't be put in again in the future by a third party and also this whole process has concentrated the minds of people on the whole issue of Castlefreke, and that goes from the fauna to the walks and the history of it.’
He said that local people are shaping a vision for the area and want it be taken away from Coillte and put into the hands of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. ‘That is our long term solution for it, as well as other issues like the right of way, and that's why the campaign will continue,’ he added.
‘We can't say “job well done” yet. We want to create a fantastic amenity similar maybe to the facility in Ballyhoura. There is great potential here, and this is more than a wood, it's a major amenity and it needs to be handed over to someone else.'
He said the committee made it clear from day one that the issue was with Coillte and not with Stephen Evans Freke, as they are the owners of the property. ‘We lobbied them not to sell the lands to any third party. We never personalised our campaign towards him,’ Mr Carroll added.
But in this week’s Southern Star, Castle owner Evans Freke blasted the organisers for their failure to check the facts before mounting the high profile campaign. He also said that he had never been invited to any meetings, or approached for a comment on his plans.
Mr Evans Freke said he never intended to limit any access to the lands, but instead wanted to replant them and leave them in better condition for future generations of walkers.
He gave a full commitment that the walks would be kept open to the public and said he could not understand why the campaigners were on the opposite side of the ‘barricades’ to him, as they should all be – as committed environmentalists – on the same side.
And he criticised current public policy – as enacted by Coillte – which promotes the clear felling of forestry. There are much better and more sustainable ways of managing the lands, he said, and he had an ambition, and a duty, to ensure they were better managed.
‘This is not about land ownership, it is about land stewardship,’ he told The Southern Star, admitting that he did fear that Coillte may pull the plug on the deal, given the high profile local campaign.
It would seem that with today’s news that the sale has now fallen through, Mr Evans Freke’s plans for a sustainable forestry project, have also fallen through.