Tuesday 6 March 2007

Bitter blow for Greencore as €1bn plan

LAOIS County Council has blasted a big hole in Greencore's controversial €1.1bn development of its land bank in Carlow/Laois. In a shock move last week, a local area draft plan failed to include a hundred acres of land in Laois owned by Greencore in its rezoning plans.
Greencore sources are playing down the move, maintaining that it is in separate discussions with Laois County Council. According to a spokesman, "it was agreed that the sugar factory would be considered separately."
But a senior Laois planning source has told the Sunday Independent that "we have an adequate amount of zoned lands within the area and we do not consider that we need to zone any more."
The Greencore lands are mostly located in Carlow but a hundred acres of the land bank is controlled by the local authority in Laois. The Greencore lands straddle the river Barrow which marks the border between the two counties. The Carlow and Laois lands owned by Greencore run adjacently along the river.
The decision by Laois County Council not to include the Greencore lands for 'mixed use' zoning could stymie the company's aim to become the major
property developer in the Carlow area. As currently proposed, the lands will now remain unzoned.
Political sources in Carlow have said that the decision by Laois County Council to frustrate the Greencore plans will boost political opposition to the company on next-door Carlow County Council.
Greencore faces a marathon task in persuading Carlow councillors to further its ambitions to become a big property player. Last night a leading Carlow politician told the Sunday Independent that "in current circumstances, Greencore hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of being given rezoning".
Greencore has won few friends in the Carlow region since its decision to close down the sugar factory and its failure to see local beet farmers compensated. Carlow has been the location of several popular protests against the company's behaviour with a battery of disaffected former workers, pensioners and beet farmers lobbying politicians to fight Greencore's plans.
The final decision on the zoning of Greencore's lands will rest with the county councillors (some of whom are themselves ex-employees) and not with the planners. A decision could be made as early as June. Carlow County Council has already employed consultants O'Mahony Pike to advise on the development of the town.
News of the danger to Greencore's plans came in a week when Greencore's shares saw another mystery buyer. Analysts were surprised to see bulk buying on Wednesday when the rest of the market was in retreat. A single transaction of 3.3m shares is understood to have taken place through Goodbody Stockbrokers. Speculation centred around developer Liam Carroll who already holds 22 per cent, but some brokers were suggesting that Mr Carroll had decided to reduce his interests because of the difficulties of developing the Carlow land bank.
Last November Greencore made an exotic submission to Carlow County Council with its proposals for its land bank. This included a promise to create 2,000 jobs by building "a sustainable enterprise-based community".
It promised a network of streets, squares and public parks and a mix of retail,commercial and residential buildings.
Shane Ross
© Irish Independent

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