Glenfaba MHK and former government minister David Anderson says he does not believe there is a compelling case to sell off Knockaloe farm.
He said there was a lot of concern in his constituency about what would happen if the site was sold – and argued there should be no deals with individual parties without going through a formal expressions of interest process.
And he added: ‘You can only sell off the family silver once. I see it as an asset. It shouldn’t be sold unless there is a compelling case to do so.’
The Manx Independent revealed last month that the government was considering selling the farm, the venue for the Royal Manx Agricultural Show, having seen a leaked letter from former Environment, Food and Agriculture Minister Phil Gawne MHK.
A public meeting has been called to discuss the future of the site on Tuesday, September 9, at Patrick Community Centre, starting at 7.30pm.
New DEFA Minister Richard Ronan MHK has been invited to attend to hear the concerns of commissioners and residents.
Mr Anderson told the Manx Independent: ‘We have not got the full picture. I’m not sure if they’ve gone out for expressions of interest or whether they have been approached by an individual with a view to purchasing some or part of the site.
‘Obviously there are long-term tenancies in place, Central Mart and the Royal Manx Agricultural Society. They are only about three years into the contract and I understand they are 20-year contracts.
‘This has been rumoured on and off for some time. I spoke to Phil Gawne and he didn’t deny there had been interest in it.
‘It’s not zoned for anything other than agricultural purposes. It’s an ideal location for the Royal Manx Show and that dovetails with the Central Mart. Locally there is a lot of concern about what might happen to it if it is sold.’
In his letter to Patrick Commissioners dated July 1, Mr Gawne wrote: ‘Following the cessation of “in house” farming activity at Knockaloe, the department has reviewed its need for the property and also discussed it in detail with other areas of government.
‘Following these discussions, the department plans to market the farm towards the end of this year with a view to completing any sale as the current leases expire.’
He told the Manx Independent that his department had wanted to develop Knockaloe as a food park but this would have cost £2m to 4m to do so. With no proposals that were really going to work, the decision had been taken to market the site, he said. ‘I have not been made aware of any external interest,’ he said.
Mr Anderson said local people were concerned the site would be developed for housing but he thought this unlikely as it is not zoned for this use and while that designation could change, there was a lot of undeveloped land still available in the west.
He said there were also fears locally that Knockaloe was a potential site for a regional sewage treatment plant. Mr Gawne confirmed that this had been raised as a possibililty.
But Mr Anderson said: ‘I think it’s highly unlikely but the rumour mills get going and people get concerned.’
Clerk to Patrick Commissioners Ian Maule has been tasked by the commissioners to establish if there are covenants in place protecting the site.
Mr Anderson said he was not sure if such covenants are in place. ‘If it has been put on for a specific reason and that reason has disappeared over a period of time, then a covenant might be lifted by the high court. If the covenant was for educational purposes then quite clear it’s not used for that any longer,’ he said.
He said he would be interested to hear what the new DEFA Minister had to say.
‘A sale won’t make any difference to the department’s revenue budget - it will go straight to Treasury.
‘I would be very interested to know what government gets for all the rentals they have. I would think it makes a significant contribution now when it always used to run at a loss.
‘I don’t think it should be offered to an individual party without putting out expressions of interest. I don’t know whether we are talking about offering a small or large part of the site. Hopefully the public meeting will give some clarity.’