******URGENT****** 24 HOURS ***** TO SAVE NECARNE****
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To the members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council
Your Urgent Attention is Needed to Save Necarne!
On the 22nd of February 2017 a grassroots and voluntary campaign group 'Saving Necarne' was given a guarantee by Solicitors representing the Council “that no contract will be entered into (to lease Necarne to anyone) until a process of Consultation has been entered into". On Thursday the 1st of November the Council advertised that ITEC will host an information night which is an opportunity for attendees to be briefed on future proposals for Necarne, and submit their views and comments on the 8th of November. The plan for the evening includes Gardrum ( Euro Auctions/ Mr & Mrs Keys') staff giving a presentation on their proposals: what they hope to do if they have the lease. On the Council website, it shows that there are no current consultations. Thursday 8th- appears to be some form of engagement/marketing.
The absence of any other information from the council we are concerned that Thursday, November 8th's attempt to 'engage', might be interpreted by the council as a fulfilment of their commitment to appropriately 'consult' and may be the only chance for the concerned public to have any say on the current council proposal for Necarne. This petition, therefore, must count as a response to the community engagement the lease is subject to.
After many disastrous chapters in Necarne’s past, it is vital we make democracy work now. Not least because during the war Necarne was a hospital and many brave people who were stationed there, who died fighting for the democracy we need to function now! Many had their bodies washed on morgue tables at the castle. Necarne’s history must be respected in the way its future is decided.
It is our experience that Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have:
- set deliberately commercial criteria and scoring for this historic estate which prevented community-led development (eligible for funding to save the heritage) and allowed any bidder to opt out of taking responsibility for the castle -which they did.
- refused to answer many FOI requests in order to protect the interests of private investors;
- allowed the Council CEO to instruct councillors not to attend public meetings where professionals were presenting important information about a better alternative appropriate, accountable future for the castle and community;
- ensured that all discussion in regard to the plans for this public asset be moved into 'confidential matters' so that no councillor could enlighten the community about the details of any proposal and no press could report on it;
-refused the community's rights of way applications - from people who have walked the estate for decades.
- adopted a lease 'in principle' without, we believe, seeing and putting the full terms of the lease and impacts of it out to public consultation;
-considered letters of support gathered by Gardrum which, we believe were requested from people who have not seen the full terms of the lease and are not fully aware of the future losses involved to community or castle.
- failed to publicly declare which councillors have conflicts of interest and what meetings they attended and may have influenced with conflicting interests;
- changed the term 'consultation' to 'engagement' (marketing) and currently propose that Necarne is gifted to a commercial interest in a deal that Historic Environment Division says “mothballs the castle... when it should be the driver" (for any future development of the estate).
We believe it is finally time for the Council to STOP and do the right thing for Necarne, the Castle and the Community and this huge public asset and massive amount of public funding before its too late!
The Council must hold appropriate consultations on this publicly funded asset - as part of this, there should be an Equality Impact Assessment conducted in full compliance with Section 75 duties.
If the Council make the mistake of going ahead to lease Necarne to Gardrum it must first publish the draft lease so the public has full knowledge of what is planned for Necarne. People must be able to see if their rights of way (refused by the council) are protected or restricted; which of the many many groups who either use or have used or been refused use, may in the future to use this public asset, and who will be allowed to use it and when and at what cost; and if the estate is to be kept as it is or may be used as a machinery park or something else etc. The public has the right to see the terms of the lease so they can see what protections there are for their walkways and the many other needs and considerations and impacts the Councillors may not have thought of. People need to see and realise the Castle is not part of the future of Necarne as Mr Key's staff described it as an "Economic Liability" - as they are not eligible for any funding support due to being 'for private profit' simply exploiting an asset. The public must be able to see the lease terms and then be able to talk to their elected representatives fully about it before the Council vote on it - this is how democracy should work - the will of the people is represented by those elected to serve the people.
Only under the lease terms can Mr Keys be held accountable in law in what is a public asset – needed by the community and the heritage.
What is offered this coming Thursday night in no way provides any security to the public being asked to part with this public asset, and promised appropriate consultation - as nothing promised on the night of the meeting is in any way legally enforceable, as it may well not be reflected in the terms of the lease between the council and the commercial party seeking simply profit - and there is certainly not enough detail provided in writing - to enable appropriate CONSULTATION.
The lease documentation should be published in a reasonable time before the opening of the consultation process so that key stakeholders and the community have time to consider the implications for the future of Necarne.
Unfortunately, verbal commitments made on the night or the professional spin of a property developer hired by the private bidder mean nothing, and may never happen, as their sole interest is maximising profit from Necarne, a profit the Council are effectively gifting to a multi-millionaire as they propose to sign over over a public asset of a historic estate worth millions, which has benefited from more than six million in public investment. Indeed anyone considering the 'best value' deal that is about to be signed off by the councillors should consider that the applicant will make more than twice the rent paid to the council back through rental income, subsidies and grants etc payable on the 228-acre estate. This in effect means Mr Keys is being guaranteed a huge profit at the ratepayers' / taxpayers expense and that's before counting the additional profit he can squeeze from the buildings, houses and space on the estate that can be rented out for events etc. The Council and ratepayers will still be left with the liability for the castle. We believe the original intent was to dispose of the castle what the Council viewed as a liability - but it still remains. Profits from the estate belong in the estate. Millions have already been taken out of the estate by the Council - it's clearly at breaking point from exploitation- the castle is going to go first so it must be saved first.
The loss of the castle completely defeats any aim to draw tourists – what an embarrassing story the ruin will be! Experts state- it must be roofed and restored - to remain.
To Save Necarne - The Council must stop the lease of Necarne to Gardrum Holdings or any other private bidder.
The Council must support a genuinely participative, and inclusive, community-led plan to develop holiday accommodation, a café, and create jobs. The best option to do this is through establishing a social enterprise, ( of which there are innumerable successful examples including in Irvinestown itself) which would reinvest the income from events and the like back into saving the castle and meeting community needs.
It is crucial that the Council stop and -
Do not allow the castle to be divided from the estate!
Do not abandon the castle in any future agreements!
Do not hand over historic public assets and millions of public investment for peanuts - especially when it means their destruction!
We call on the council to follow government guidance that financial gain should not be the priority when disposing of heritage; to follow their own policies that commit them to the empowerment of the community and to safeguard our heritage.
Work with the community! Harness all the love and care for Necarne to make a fantastic future for all of it.
Together we can bring forward an open process to brings everyone together through a regional Future Search community conversation. Together we can establish an appropriate future for Necarne Castle and estate, and establish a community empowering social enterprise which will use initiatives like community shares, community asset transfer etc to generate income, create empowering jobs under responsible, accountable governance and win funding that can save the castle for generations to come! Now that would be something Fermanagh Omagh Council could be very proud of!
We the undersigned entirely reject the paltry offer proposals being spun by Gardrum/ Euro Auctions/ Keys published at the Council meeting of 11th of July 2018, and we reject the toxic process which has also led to a deeply divided community and brought out the worst of human nature, as some are now greedy for money from Necarne and others are concerned for the precious heritage and a vibrant healthy empowered community.
United Necarne and the community stand- but divided we all fall. This is a historic opportunity to make a fantastic public asset into a wonderful future for this region. There is a better healthier way to hold the asset. Please take responsibility for the castle and community involved. History will judge decisions taken now for generations to come.
Please - choose profits from this public asset and millions of public funding to go to Necarne, not Keys.
Please choose the Castle not Keys.
This is our choice.
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