Northern Ireland

Council reviews follow critical audit office report

Independent councillor Padraig McShane
Independent councillor Padraig McShane

The recent reviews of governance and land and property policies at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council were launched after the Northern Ireland Audit Office found that two deals agreed by the local authority may not have been lawful.

An 'extraordinary audit' published last year identified a culture of "bypassing best practice" in the council's transacting of land disposals and easements and stated that the actions of some council officers had "fallen short of the standards expected in a public body".

Independent Causeway Coast and Glens councillor Padraig McShane and TUV leader Jim Allister had separately asked the audit office to examine the council's role in land deals.

TUV leader Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister

Mr McShane also raised his concerns directly with the Department for Communities.

The audit was ordered by former communities minister Carál Ní Chuilín in November 2020 and centred on two controversial land deals.

The first related to the grant of an easement – a right of way – at Ballyreagh Road in Portstewart to a hotel developer for £1 in 2016, which would allow access to a proposed development project.

Planning permission was granted in 2017 but later overturned as a result of judicial review in 2019, which was taken by Mr Allister.

The second deal was linked to the sale of land at Castleroe Road in Coleraine, again in 2016, when the council agreed in principle to off load the property to a registered charity for £5,000 to facilitate the development of a boutique hotel.

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The audit report, which was published last July, concluded there was a case for finding that the disposal had not been granted lawfully and there was a failure to show that the best price was obtained.

The extraordinary audit made eight recommendations including that a council-wide review of governance arrangements should be carried out.

It also recommended that council should "arrange an independent detailed review of all of its land-related policies and procedures".