Citizens to have their say on future of brewery site

An offer by Diageo to sell St Francis Abbey Brewery site to Kilkenny local authorities for €2.1 million for the benefit of the city is set to get the go ahead from politicians.

An offer by Diageo to sell St Francis Abbey Brewery site to Kilkenny local authorities for €2.1 million for the benefit of the city is set to get the go ahead from politicians.

And citizens will soon have their say on how best to utilise the 10.6 acres facing the River Nore.

Some council members see it as a great opportunity to shape the future development of the site and city core; others are wary of borrowing €1.3 million for the purchase.

One suggestion to do away with the Central Access Scheme bridge and use that money to purchase the brewery site has been knocked by the majority of councillors.

Members of Kilkenny Borough and County Council will meet on May 8 to discuss the proposal, and Mayor David Fitzgerald said he also wants to hold a public meeting in late May to discuss how the site should be developed.

The price tag offered by Diageo has been “independently valued on the councils’ behalf,” according to county manager Joe Crockett, and is “in line with” market values “on the basis of town centre zoning.”

The site in question is a total of 10.6 acres, with about 8 acres being “developable.” It excludes the Victorian Brewery on the site and also the St Francis Abbey National Monument, which is owned by the state. The Borough Council owns adjoining lands at the Market Yard and the County Council owns adjoining lands on the Vicar Street side.

With regards the €2.1 million needed if the councils decide to purchase the site, the two councils have already set aside €300,000 to acquire a section of the Diageo lands for the Central Access Scheme.

The County Council can provide around €500,000 from expected land sales in the Kilkenny Electoral Area, according to the county manager, and the Borough Council would then borrow the remaining €1.3 million, “subject to sanction by the Minister for the Environment.”

“It is estimated that loan repayments on this sum would total €125,000 per annum over 15 years,” the manager said in a letter to councillors. “The Borough Council has already set aside €67,000 for an initiative of this nature in the 2012 Revenue Budget and the remaining €58,000 could be provided in the 2013 Revenue Budget and thereafter.”

If council members want to consider the matter further or to proceed with the purchase, “then formal motions will be put before both councils for legal decision to commence the acquisition process and to seek loan sanction from the Minister for the Environment,” according to Mr Crockett.

If the sale goes ahead, it is expected that the councils would take possession of the lands in 2014 or 2015. Diageo is planning to cease its current brewing operations at the St Francis Abbey Brewery at the end of 2013, depending on the planning permission process for its James’s Gate site in Dublin.

Any future use of the St Francis Abbey Brewery site, whether in council ownership or not, will be shaped by the new City Development Plan, including a public consultation process that will begin in June.

At this stage, council members have proposed using the site for anything from a university faculty to a Norman museum, a public park or a tourist amenity.

In his letter, Mr Crockett said: “The Saint Francis Abbey site is of strategic importance to the economic and social development of the City and County of Kilkenny and accordingly it is recommended that both Councils should acquire the lands at the terms and for the reasons outlined.”

What the members of Kilkenny Borough Council have to say about the proposal, Page 4.