Council face huge legal bill over land dispute

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

RATEPAYERS are set to foot a huge six-figure sum after Newry and Mourne Council pressed ahead with court proceedings against Norbrook boss Lord Ballyedmond over a land dispute- despite being offered a settlement almost 15 months ago.
A five-year dispute finally came to an abrupt and unexpected end last Wednesday when the council accepted proposals from Lord Ballyedmond to construct a coastal pathway around land close to his property on the Killowen Road.
However, the Democrat understands that the exact same proposal was first offered to the council in November 2012 but, following a specially convened meeting in May last year, the proposals were rejected and court proceedings continued.
Now Newry and Mourne ratepayers could be hit with a six-figure sum - which could be as high as 500,000 - for substantial court costs incurred by the council in the 15-month period since the proposal was first offered and when it was accepted earlier this month.
When asked by the Democrat why the initial proposal was initially rejected and then accepted over a year later, Newry and Mourne Councill declined to comment, citing it would be "inappropriate" as the two parties were finalising a joint statement on the Terms of Settlement.
But in a statement regarding legal fees, a spokesperson said: "The council is not in a position to comment at this time on legal costs, except to say that as in all substantial cases of this nature, they will be subject to independent assessment and verification.
“Any estimate of costs at this stage would be entirely speculative and without any factual foundation."
“Whilst the council is constrained from commenting further at this time on the outcome of the proceedings, it does note that the trial judge, Mr Justice Deeney, at the High Court last week, congratulated both sides on reaching an agreement."
The five-year dispute dispute centred on a laneway on the industrialist's estate, beside Killowen beach.
Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, had been seeking a ruling that the stretch of land is private.
The council, however, wanted a determination that the route should be open to the public.
Lord Ballyedmond previously secured an injunction preventing access to the laneway until that case was dealt with. It was granted after concerns were raised about any alleged trespassers coming close to sensitive research facilities.
His lawyers argued that the council had no legal authority for declaring a public right of way on his land and a two-week trial was due to start this week.
However, in the High Court senior counsel Stephen Shaw QC revealed that a settlement has now been reached.
He told Mr Justice Deeny: "Without prejudice to the council's assertion of a public right of way and/or the merits of the respective proceedings, the parties have agreed to make a gesture of goodwill for the sake of the convenience of the public."
It will involve constructing a new coastal pathway to provide another means of public access to the beach as an alternative to the disputed public right of way, the court heard.
Mr Shaw said the proposed pathway will be adjacent to part of the lands known as the Big Moat.
It is understood that once built by Lord Ballyedmond the council will have responsibility for management of the new route.

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