“There is a need for student accommodation – but not in our estates, thank you very much; we have had enough.”
These words were met by rapturous applause at a meeting of around 200 Newcastle and Dangan residents last week opposed to the construction of 400 student bedrooms on the site of the Westwood Hotel.
The meeting entitled ‘Save the Westwood Hotel Campaign’ was told that unity would be needed to block the proposed development which would see the hotel knocked and high-density student digs built in its place.
In a show of hands, the attendees unanimously agreed that they were opposed to the construction of student accommodation on the site.
Chair of the meeting, Clifden Park resident Basil Fenton, outlined the details of a meeting with the committee of residents and new owners of the site, Ziggurat Student Investment Fund and Atelier.
“14 weeks ago, there was a meeting in the Westwood to discuss out plans – a committee was formed made up of volunteers and we have had eight meetings since then.
“On May 22, we met with the new owners – Atelier and Ziggurat – and we are here tonight to dispel some of the rumours floating around,” said Mr Fenton.
According to Mr Fenton, they were informed by Ziggurat co-founder, Matthew McAdden, that the purpose-built student accommodation would be leased to college students during term time and to language students for the two months of summer.
“Back in May, he reckoned the planning process would take three to four months and once the Council are happy, they will submit their planning application which they said would be sometime in August.
“They are assuming that they will start working on site in May or June of 2018,” he remarked.
Mr Fenton said that the committee had been told that the building would be four to five stories on one end and three to four stories on the other end,” he added.
It was suggested that to prepare the strongest possible objection to any planning application that is to emerge, expert help should be sought in the form of a planning consultant.
To do this, the committee is seeking €20 from each household in the area to cover any costs associated.
The committee expressed concern over new legislation as part of the government’s housing strategy – namely the fast-tracking of planning decisions on large-scale housing schemes by routing applications directly to An Bord Pleanála.
They feared that this option would be taken by developers to bypass Galway City Council’s planning process – however, all current indications are that the traditional route will be used.
It was claimed that a proportion of the site would need to be rezoned to allow for the construction of the new student facility.
All three city councillors who spoke at the meeting, namely Cllr Frank Fahy (FG), Cllr Ollie Crowe (FF) and Cllr Mark Lohan (SF), confirmed that they would block any attempt to rezone the site.
There was some dissent in the room over naming the campaign ‘Save the Westwood’ with some believing this was an impossible task now that the hotel has been sold.
One resident said: “I can’t for the life of me see why saving the Westwood is more important to blocking the construction of student accommodation – I think the main attack should be on the planning application for student accommodation.”
Mr Fenton said that the hotel was a very important amenity in the area and, with an aging population, it was vital that a facility like this was available locally.
It was pointed out at the meeting that a hand-delivered invitation to the meeting was brought to Non-Executive Chairperson of Atelier, Enda McGowan.
They said that despite earlier assurances that the company would engage with residents at all times, Mr McGowan was absent from the hall.
Ziggurat, a UK-based pension fund investment company, plans to construct 1,000 student beds in the city over the coming years.
The company has already constructed similar properties across the UK as well as in Cork and Dublin.