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OPINION: Site at Marino Point a decaying shambles

April 10th, 2017 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WHAT’S going on at Marino Point, the 114-acre site near Cobh that once was the location of Irish Fertiliser Industries’ massive ammonia-urea plant?

The factory closed in 2002 and no redevelopment that would have benefitted Cork people and the country took place in the ensuing years. Marino Point is now a gigantic dump, an environmentally-degraded plot of land that resembles a devastated, ravaged wilderness, pockmarked with crumbling buildings and giant, rusting installations.  

A county councillor aptly described the mess as similar to ‘the aftermath of Hiroshima.’ In simple terms, this filthy, is a disgrace for which Cork County Council must take responsibility.

Councillor ‘Frick’ Murphy earned praise from his peers when he requested that the local authority should write to the Port of Cork, which last year was a prospective purchaser of the site, and to get accurate information on whether it remained interested in acquiring the place. Cllr ‘Frick’ described Marino Point as ‘currently being in a desperate state.’

But, whatever about the concerns of individual councillors, the fact of the matter is that in recent years Cork County Council has shown no interest in Marino Point – perhaps due to ingrained and historic indifference to the ammonia plant being the biggest polluter in the area when in production.  Nor did environmentalists forget that the construction of NET was facilitated by the County Council against the advice of a senior planning officer.

 

Commercial interest

According to official Council records, after the commissioning of the plant in 1979 until its closure, every year was marked by pollution incidents, such as ammonia leaks, scorching of nearby vegetation, gassed schoolchildren, bird kills, intolerable noise, unbearable odours and sinister groundwater contamination.

Nevertheless, and despite the Council’s persistent inattention to Marino Point,  the councillors’ newly-acquired sense of guardianship is to be welcomed, especially in the wake of interest expressed in the site last year by a consortium representing the Port of Cork and an outfit called Orston Limited (Origin enterprise plc: a multi-national organisation focussing on agri-services). In October, the consortium set out to purchase the site from Nama through a joint venture company called Marino Point Port Company.

The plan was to use Marino Point for handling oil, agri-feed and fertiliser shipping traffic. Incorporated into the plan was the Cobh-Cork rail link, which would be used to transport biomass freight.  The jetty would ‘accommodate’ oil and gas field supply ships, as well as exploration vessels. What’s more, the consortium said it would pump €18m into Marino Point, having offered around €8m for the site.

(Indeed, the knock down sale price was remarkable. Bought in 2003 for €23 million by Hugh O’Regan of the Thomas Read chain of pubs, the former publican had hoped to sell the place for €40m, but his tragic death prevented this from happening).

 

Local delight

The response to the proposed purchase was mixed. Ecstatic council politicos described the news as ‘amazing’ and ‘a real boost for local business,’ but the reaction of local proles was somewhat different – they’d seen it all before sort of thing and they took the announcement with the proverbial grain of salt.

 Sure enough, hardly had October’s autumnal leaves begun to fall (not on the IFI site, of course, where everything was stone dead) when news filtered out that the deal had been scuppered!

In response, the Port of Cork issued an almost impenetrable statement whose drift was that notification to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) had been withdrawn. ‘We will be reflecting on it,’ said an inscrutable spokesperson, declining point blank to comment any further, or explain what had taken place. 

The Port gurus then withdrew to the shadowy recesses of the Custom House and to the shady comfort zone provided by the wispy maritime paintings of George Mounsey Wheatly Atkinson and William Van der Hagen, where they reflected.

The competition watchdog marginally was less enigmatic. 

In a statement it said that ‘the creation of a joint venture company, Marino Point Port Company, and the related acquisition had been withdrawn at the request of the parties.’ The CCPC was not prepared to give any more information.

Nonetheless, some council politicos rummaged for an explanation as if they were soothsayers examining the entrails of a sacrificed hen. Their conclusion? Not to worry, it was nothing more than a ‘delay,’ a hitch, a small stumbling block. 

But, the message behind the guff was clear: there would be no redevelopment of Marino Point on the scale proposed by the Port of Cork and its chums.

 

Tired of tomfoolery

Leesiders were disgusted with the huggermugger, although accepting that the proposed development-merger-consortium was now a dead duck and probably had been so from day one. Nor did County Hall’s dumbfounded politicos – out of their depth as usual – have much to add. In fairness, some councillors promised to get ‘clarity’ from the Port of Cork on its plans for the Marino Point site. 

That was back in October 2016 and people are still waiting for the ‘clarity.’ Even more uncanny is the silence that has descended on normally garrulous Port of Cork officials who in relation to other commercial matters – such as the liner trade – have had no inhibitions blowing their own trumpet.   

Some politicos claimed ‘to be in the know’ and alluded to the condition of two 18th century bridges that formed part of the sole road connection to Marino Point and which were not fit for 21st century traffic. They suggested that this might have been a contributing factor to the so-called ‘delay.’

In the meantime, local people in the Marino Point area, tired of the monkey business surrounding the sale of the IFI site, have taken matters into their own hands. Last January, in the form of the Belvelly, Carrigaloe and District Community Association, they put forward an excellent proposal in a submission to the Draft Local Area Plan. They want Cork County Council to buy the site area from NAMA. 

‘The on-off purchasing process has dragged on for three years and we are no wiser today than we were in 2014. There is a clear, local need for this green space and it’s up to the Council to pursue it.  

‘We, as a community, have paid through the nose for the mistakes and greed of others, and are looking for a small piece of green space as recompense,’ the Community Associations said in an online statement.

Interesting too that local councillor, Kieran McCarthy, some months ago informed his County Hall comrades that, when planning permission was initially granted for fertiliser production, ‘a condition of approval was that in the event of the industry closing down, the land would be returned to a greenfield site, unless it was acquired for port-related activities.’

Is that the way to go?

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