Mount Congreve is "a wonderful amenity for the Council to have in its possession," according to Councillor John O'Leary. 	| Photo: Noel Browne CABINET last week approved a deal that will see Waterford City & County Council receive an annual grant of €250,000 over the next seven years to take over the maintenance and management of Mount Congreve, on behalf of the State.
Waterford Independent Minister John Halligan confirmed that the deal, facilitated by his Independent Alliance colleague, Minister of State at the OPW Sean Canney, will involve the Commissioners of Public Works entering into an agreement with the Estate of Ambrose Congreve, the late owner of the estate and gardens, for a final settlement of outstanding Trust matters.
This includes the Estate conveying almost 75 acres to the Mount Congreve Estate Trust at no cost, as well as transferring horticultural stock valued at approximately €200,000. The Trust will also receive a cash consideration of €1.3 million.
As part of the agreement, the commercial nursery and car park at Mount Congreve will be transferred to the Trust.
“The total cost to the exchequer is €1.75 million but look at what Waterford is gaining in this deal”, Minister Halligan commented.
“Firstly, it is great news for the horticultural staff employed at the Estate who keep the grounds in such a magnificent condition. Furthermore, Waterford City & County Council is being presented with a wonderful opportunity to develop this world-renowned garden for locals and tourists alike by bringing in commercial interests to build on the outgoings and enhance the visitor experience. Mount Congreve’s proximity to the new Greenway will only augment this potential and I must acknowledge my colleague Minister Sean Canney for recognising the great potential to both sustain and increase international visitor numbers, generate employment and to build expertise in the management of tourism attractions in Waterford.”
Under the terms of a previous agreement reached between the State and Ambrose Congreve in 1979, it was agreed that the freehold and ownership of the gardens would transfer to the State in 2032 (21 years after the death of Mr Congreve); the mansion house and its adjoining 5 acres will come under State ownership in 2059.
“Ambrose Congreve’s decision to bequeath his house and magnificent gardens to the State was indeed a great gift to the nation”, Minister Halligan continued.
“This deal approved by Cabinet will ensure his life’s work will continue to thrive and be enjoyed by future generations.”
Waterford City & County Council’s takeover of Mount Congreve has been broadly welcomed by local Councillors – however some concerns have also been raised.
Speaking at the May plenary meeting of Waterford City & County Council, Cllr John O’Leary (FF) said he welcomed the takeover of Mount Congreve Estate by the local authority.
He described Mount Congreve as “a wonderful amenity for the Council to have in its possession”, saying that it would “enhance the development of tourism in Waterford”.
However, he said he was “not at all happy” with how details of the takeover had originally “filtered out”. He said he had first heard of the news through local media.
“If this was happening in the city there would have been several workshops about the takeover,” he said.
“It seems as though things are done differently once you go outside the city boundary,” he added.
He asked if the takeover included Mount Congreve House as well as the world famous gardens and sought clarification on the position in relation to the current employees.
Cllr John Cummins (FG) also expressed some concerns.
“Has there been final agreement entered into by the Council without the knowledge of the members?” he asked.
“Or will the agreement come before the members for our approval?”
In response, Director of Services Ivan Grimes confirmed that Mount Congreve House is part of the overall agreement and an “integral part” of the attraction.
“After the government signs off on the agreement, we will bring details to you, including how it impacts on the Council,” he said.
“Our primary objective in relation to Mount Congreve is to retain the high quality and integrity of the gardens into the future.”
He said Waterford City & County Council has already held discussions with Fáilte Ireland, adding that the agency is “very positive” towards Mount Congreve.
Mr Grimes also confirmed that responsibility for the employees will transfer over to the new entity.
Cllr Mary Roche (Ind) said she wasn’t aware that Mount Congreve House was coming into the management of the Council as well as the gardens.
“My concern would be why the Office of Public Works (OPW) isn’t doing this job themselves,” she said.
“They look after lots of properties around the country. We should ensure that they are not contracting it out to the Council to do ‘on the cheap’.”
She added: “We need to be very careful and I would like to know the details of the financial arrangements.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Eddie Mulligan (FF) suggested that consideration be given to a “pro bono blue ribbon type of management.”
“As we aspire to develop the best international gardens we can, would the Council give some consideration to a pro bono blue ribbon type of management where we could look at involving experts in various fields such as marketing, horticulture etc.” he asked.
Cllr Mulligan said this would help ensure that Mount Congreve is an “international destination”.
Ivan Grimes said Waterford City & County Council is working towards ensuring that there is “appropriate expertise” in place.