Michael Lowry’s “Worthless” Land


Today’s Irish Examiner, reports that Michael Lowry co-owns an undeclared 25-acre piece of land outside Wigan, which could be worth up to €10 million if a planned rezoning goes ahead, as expected, next year.

Since 2003, the site has been registered in the names of Mr Lowry and his business partner Liam Carroll.

But the Examiner claims the property has not appeared on Mr Lowry’s register of members interests in the Dail.

It also reported on the site’s significance in relation to the Moriarty Tribunal and Denis O’Brien. The tribunal found that money given to property agent Kevin Phelan to find the site “was instead part of a larger settlement reached between O’Brien and Mr Lowry, on one side, and Mr Phelan on the other”.

Michael Lowry went on Tipp FM this morning to give his side of the story with broadcaster Seamus Martin. It followed an interview with Conor Ryan of the Irish Examiner, the author of today’s story.

Seamus Martin: Michael Lowry, good morning.

Michael Lowry: “Good morning, Seamus.”

Martin: “So, this land, how did you come by part-ownership of this land?”

Lowry: “Well, Seamus, it would be a great story if it was accurate. First of all, as your contributor (Conor Ryan) there has said, Liam Carroll and I had a company, called Vineacre, in the UK. And that company had the option on a number of parcels of land in that area. We retained those options for a number of years and then decided that the options, when they came up for renewal, that it was too expensive to renew them and the risk factor involved in renewing those options would be too great. So that’s the reason the company was dissolved, because the principle element of trading within that company was the options to that land.”

Martin: “Was the idea, in acquiring those options, was the idea that there would be a rezoning?”

Lowry: “No. Well, there was…At that stage, it was generally perceived that there was a need for a development in that area. (coughs) Excuse me. But rezoning hadn’t been discussed at that particular stage. So what happened is, we allowed Vineacre to be dissolved and while we had Vineacre in our possession, I always recorded Vineacre on my register of interests in the Dail…”

Martin: “As you said, yeah.”

Lowry: “Yeah. So. Yeah. So then in 2003, we dissolved Vineacre and all that was left then was this 18 acres I think it is approximately of land, around that area, which we separately purchased.”

Martin: “He (Mr Ryan) says 25?”

Lowry: “No, well it’s not 25. Seamus, I haven’t got the exact details with me but Seamus it’s definitely not 25. But we’re not going to dispute whatever it is. I think it’s 18, maximum 20. So we have that piece of land. Now the important thing to remember Seamus here is, this article has a tendancy to speculate and certainly is exaggerating because the reality is that that piece of land has sat still there for the last 11 years, we’ve had no rental income from it because it’s barren land and, to use his own phrase, it’s been reclaimed by nature.”

Martin: “It’s gone back to nature.”

Lowry: “Yes it’s gone back to nature.”

Martin: “But the rezoning? That’s the key issue.”

Lowry: “Yes, well, yes, well, just put it in context. As I say to you. As it stands at the moment, and even he accepts that, it’s been reclaimed by nature. So the land as it stands at the moment, is absolutely valueless, it’s worthless. It is only comes in to value if there’s actually a rezoning. Now. The rezoning. The position with the rezoning is this. That last year, Wigan council, towards the end of last year, Wigan council put on public display, a development plan for the area.”

Martin: “A Local Area Development Plan? Like councillors would do here? Is that the same idea, yeah?”

Lowry: “Yes, yes, and the important thing to remember is that when that plan is published, all of the area, that’s included in the plan, is published. We contacted…When my solicitor advised us that this renewal of the plan or review of the plan was up, we asked him to make contact with the council and he made contact with the council. And he was told, that it would be highly unlikely that our land would be included, that it was on the periphery of what will be required and that it was unlikely. And we had a discussion about, on whether or not we would spend money on employing an architectural team to do a job for us and we decided against it is because the message that I was getting from my legal representative was that it would be speculative to spend money on making an application to have…”

Martin: “If it wasn’t to be included.”

Lowry: “If it wasn’t to be included, yeah.”

Martin: “So usually these draft plans, well nearly always, always these draft plans will have an area, an area on the map. The question is, is this land included on the map? Or has the map been published yet?

Lowry: “The map has been published and the land that appears has been 20 acres, is in the general area but is not specifically required, under the new plan. And what I’m saying to you is, while we were told that it wasn’t specifically required under the new plan, that’s it’s on it’s periphery, we were asked were we interested in spending some money on an architectural team, to try and get it included. But as I said…”

Martin: “As you said but I mean is it in it? Or isn’t it in it?”

Lowry: “It’s not in it. It’s in the general area but it’s not included in the specific plan that the council have for the area?”

Martin: “Is there a border all around this area? Surely to god, there must be a border all around this area?”

Lowry: “Seamus, yes, the way it works is, they have a, what they do is, on the original plan they put a general area, our land is included in the general area. But the specific plan that the council have for this area, our land is not within the specific requirement. And what they’ve actually done now is they’ve gone back to the drawing board, there was a number of submissions made by other landholders. And they’ve gone back to the drawing board. And as I understand it, that plan, for that area, is still under review.”

Martin: “And have you, as a co-owner of this, have you submitted anything saying ‘look we want to be included in this?'”

Lowry: “Our solicitor wrote to them, on our behalf, and asked was our land required under the new plan and we were told that it wasn’t. Our solicitor then asked us whether or not we were interested in employing a land agent and architectural team to see could we have it included and we came to the conclusion it was too expensive and too costly to do that. So the only contact that has been with the council, in relation to the matter, is, you know, tentative inquires, we have made no detailed submission of any description and as it stands today Seamus, that land today that this guy (Mr Ryan) is talking about being worth €10million is absolutely worthless. If it was included in a development plan, which will happen next year or the year after, then it would have value and then I would have to be declaring it in my interests. But as it stands at the moment, I have no obligation whatsoever because, as he (Ryan) said himself, it’s reclaimed land, it’s not even zoned, agriculturally zoned, greenbelt, in otherwords, you cannot touch it.”

Martin: “Kinda begs the question, why’d you buy it in the first place?”

Lowry: “Well, Seamus, I suppose, it looked like a good idea at the time and maybe it still will be a good idea. You know, in the long-term it may not be rezoned in this current, five-year plan but maybe in five years’ time or ten years’ time, it could be rezoned.”

Martin: “So you’ll sit on it?”

Lowry: “Yes, I’ll sit on it, and many people in business do that.”

Martin: “Yeah, right, so. It says here. And I’m just quoting from the story here. It says: ‘Wigan Council said the land belonging to the two Tipperary partners will form part of a 30-hectare tract to house “a high quality employment park comprising offices, industrial, manufacturing and logistics’. You dispute that?”

Lowry: “Well, what, I hope he’s right. Wouldn’t I love and wish that it was included in it. But the information that we’re getting from our agent there is that we’re on the periphery of it and that our land would not be central to this development. That the development that’s under discussion at the moment is much closer to the junction at the M50, our land is a but far removed from it. It’s in the general area but the information that we’ve got is that it won’t be required. Now I would, I wish it were otherwise and I hope, I’d be delighted if the land was required to be included in that zoning plan.”

Martin: “OK. But. I still don’t get it why you didn’t put it on the register or members’ interests?”

Lowry: “Because Seamus the land, as it stands at the moment, is a greenbelt area, we’ve never had any rental income from it. There’s not even, you know, there’s not a beast, on it. It’s reclaimed by nature. It’s land that’s totally overgrown, it’s not useful for anything unless it’s rezoned, it has no value as it stands. The only time that land will have any value is if it is rezoned. It is unlikely that it will be rezoned under the current…”

Martin: “But you know yourself, land, no matter what kind of land you have, there is a value on it. I mean, you could put it in at a low value. I still don’t see why you didn’t put it under your members’ interests?”

Lowry: “Well you don’t have to Seamus, anything that I have had to register, I have registered and, in this situation, the land, as I said to you, is valueless, because it has no status, as it stands at the moment. It’s not agricultural. It’s actually zoned greenbelt. The land is being reclaimed by nature. So, as it stands at the moment, it’s useless, but if it was rezoned in the future, well then it would have a value and it would be declared.”

Martin: “As a man with a knowledge of land, why did you leave it go like that? Why didn’t you farm it? Or was it possible to farm it? I mean did you..”

Lowry: “It’s landlocked Seamus, it’s a piece of land, it’s landlocked. You don’t. There’s no interest in doing anything with it. It’s not possible to do anything with it unless you have someone declaring an interest. And as I said, we’ve had that since 2001, and nobody has ever approached us or offered to rent it or to do anything with it, we’ve just never had any approach for it so we’ve never had any income from it and, as I’ve said, it’s status at the moment is a greenbelt area and if it is rezoned in the future, it is unlikely to be rezoned in the immediate future, but if it is rezoned within the next ten to 15 years, then it will have a value and then obviously it will be declarable under the register of interests.”

Martin: “For a thing that has no value, you still paid to Kevin Phelan £65,000 sterling for a finder’s fee?”

Lowry: “Well, your reporter is wrong on that aswell. Kevin Phelan was paid £65,000 at the time because it was he that put together the various options, which included, in the region of, I think, something like, if my memory is right, eight to ten landholders, so he was paid for his input…”

Martin: “Into all the other properties?”

Lowry: “All the other properties, yeah, that’s right, yeah.”

Martin: “All right thank you very much for talking to us Michael Lowry.”

Lowry: “Thank you Seamus.”

Listen here


Previously: Lowry And O’Brien — The Story That Won’t Go Away (Elaine Byrne, Sunday Independent, July 22, 2012)

(Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

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