Scandals: Thornton Hall
The Comptroller and Auditor General has concluded that the state paid “at least twice the market price” when they purchased land in North County Dublin for a new super prison containing the relocated Mountjoy and Central Mental Hospital. In the report, published in September 2006, it said that agricultural land in the area was selling at between €20,000 and €30,000 per acre, at the time of purchase in 2005. But the government bought 150 acres at €200,000 an acre for the prison complex site, a total purchase price of €29.9 million. The original budget had been €10 million.
A Village investigation found that lands in the area, which have been sold since the purchase of Thornton Hall, sold for eight times less. A 238-acre Grange Farm at Kilbride, just ten miles from the city centre and four kilometres to the west of the Thornton site at Kilsallaghan, was sold at public auction for €6.2m or just over €26,000 an acre. Other sites have also been sold by public auction in north Dublin and county Meath since the purchase of Thornton Hall for between €25,000 and €50,000 an acre.
As well as this the site they bought had 50 per cent more land than originally estimated.The report also said that sale process was badly managed by public officials.
The report notes that when the Prison Service and the Department of Justice engaged the estate agents CBRE to find a site they “did not adopt a budget or affordability limit to guide its site procurement.”
Originally they had agreed that CBRE would assess three sites for a cost of €184,500 but in the end they surveyed 10 sites for a total cost of €256,506.
The report concluded that the manner in which they were engaged “did not comply with the rules for procurement of professional services in a number of respects.”
In September 2005, McDowell claimed, that the Thornton Hall site represented value for money. But John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General told a Dáil committee last October that “value for money wasn't achieved in this particular incident”.
Additionally there are other problems with the site. The road leading to the site is unsuitable is for the amount of traffic accessing the prison complex – which will hold up to 800 people. There is no public transport for the families of prisoners, although the Minister has promised some form of shuttle service from the city centre. The site has no water mains or sewerage supply and the nearest hospital at Blanchardstown is some 40 minutes' drive away.