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CITY TRIBUNE

200 turn out for meeting to oppose plans for Westwood Hotel

Stephen Corrigan

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“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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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