There was strong support for the future proposals of Necarne Estate at the information event held at the Arc Healthy Living Centre in Irvinestown last Thursday.

It was an opportunity for users of the estate and Irvinestown residents to hear from Council officials and Gardrum Holdings Ltd, who are the preferred bidder to take over the lease.

While there was a degree of dissension from some people in attendance, the majority welcomed the proposals which as one person described as the “only shining light in 10 or 15 years coming to this area”.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC) was represented by Chief Executive Brendan Hegarty, Celine McCartan, Director of Corporate Services and Governance and Robert Gibson, Director of Community, Health and Leisure with Kyle Porter representing Gardrum Holdings Ltd.

During the evening, Council Officials outlined a history of the Estate and the Council’s involvement with it and reaffirmed a strong commitment to achieving a long-term sustainable use for the Necarne Estate that would bring social, economic and environmental benefits to Irvinestown and the wider district and also acknowledges that this significant asset is underutilised under the current lease arrangements with DAERA/CAFRE.

Mr. Porter finished the presentation by giving a detailed outline on what the short, medium- and long-term goals were for Gardrum and the Necarne Estate. The plans included proposals to invest in creating a sustainable, multi-purpose tourism and leisure destination, comprising a holiday retreat with a range of outdoor activities, enhanced walkways and cycle paths and events space developed over a phased basis.

In response to concerns raised previously, Mr. Porter gave a firm commitment that existing use would be accommodated and stated that public access to the Estate would remain, with plans to re-open the Enniskillen Road access and improve walkways and trails.

Detailed designs and plans were on display and it was explained that extensive engagement with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Historic Environment Division had been a key part of the development process to date.

Concerns and objections were raised at the end of the presentation, with representatives from some in attendance being concerned with the lack of information available on the terms of the lease.

Mr. Hegarty told those in attendance that the Council would not be disclosing the terms of any tender proposals.

The Chief Executive emphasised obligations to ensure the integrity and governance of processes, including planning, which limited the timing and availability of certain information. He explained to those present that the medium and long-term proposals would be subject to Planning approval. The Gardrum Holdings representative present advised that it would take two years or more to complete the planning process.

Speaking after the event, Mr. Porter said Gardrum Holdings Ltd were delighted to receive an invite from FODC to present their plans for the entire Necarne Estate to the Irvinestown and surrounding Community.

“Our plans and proposals to date are the result of almost two years of work. We have involved many specialists on this journey so far to help enable us to get the very best for Necarne Estate, notably the appointment of renowned architects Holder Mathias who have a tremendous track record delivering tourism and leisure developments in environments similar to the magnificent Necarne Estate. The feedback to our plans on Thursday evening was very well received. The responses and comments shared are very encouraging and we would hope to continue our discussions with the Council to achieve a successful outcome for all in the near future.”

Diane Little, of Saving Necarne, who presented Mr. Hegarty with a petition with over 1,300 signatures asking to put an end to this process, felt the event was a “token gesture”.

“We feel if it was genuine then it would have happened before the July 11, 2018 when Councillor Armstrong proposed that the Council agree in principle to enter into a lease to Gardrum, this was seconded by Councillor Feely. Whilst many asked good questions during the few minutes at the end of the hour event when the Council allowed people to ask one brief question each, it was good that many approached us afterwards asking us for more information and asked us to come and present our alternative at an ICP meeting.

“We urge people to sign the current online petition, lobby their councillors and get in touch with us if they can offer any help or support to get the Council to move to implement their own policies for openness and transparency, empowering communities and supporting social enterprise and move to an open future search process so we can start to bring some light and hope into this increasingly toxic situation of trying to squeeze more exploitation for profits from something and some people that need to be cared for - before this rare huge public asset is gone forever.”

SDLP Councillor John Coyle and Planning Chairman was also present and he said: “It is to benefit the community of Irvinestown and we have heard here tonight the majority of the people are supportive obviously there are people who are unhappy. “The way the council is doing it is the right way and I have fully engaged with all sections who are for and against. It’s not coming to a near end soon and it is in a process and every due diligence will be carried out and the community will be protected.”

The Council and Gardrum Holdings continue to negotiate on the draft lease terms which will be further reported to the council.