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CITY TRIBUNE

An Taisce backs Galway councils amalgamation proposal

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An Taisce has welcomed the recommendation of an expert group on local government reform, which has backed controversial proposals to merge Galway City and County Councils into one entity.

The Galway branch of the association said one amalgamated local authority should result in a more streamlined delivery of services, and efficiencies in local government.

The city and county “would benefit substantially” from unification, it said.

Derrick Hambleton, chairman of An Taisce Galway Association, acknowledged one Galway Council with 57 councillors (18 city councillors and 39 county councillors) would be “unwieldy”. And he said that tensions between the priorities of the city versus the county would have to be teased out.

But, he said, An Taisce was fully supportive of the broad idea to amalgamate Galway’s two councils.

“It is on balance felt by our members that an orderly reconstruction of the county and city, into becoming one cohesive administrative unit would allow for a more balanced and effective management that would favour a much-needed, stronger regeneration of the economic development, spatial planning, environmental wellbeing, sustainable as well as social development of the whole western region, now and into the future,” said Mr Hambleton.

Resistance to the plans has come from elected members of both authorities but An Taisce said a merger would bring long-term benefits.

“We are of course very well aware that such a transition might be difficult for some to achieve and that there is some opposition to such radical proposals being enacted. Much of this opposition is coming from councillors that might fear becoming small fish in a much larger pond, incapable of separating their role as legislators, at a local level, from their farm-gate representation style of local politics! Members of An Taisce are, on the other hand, fully convinced that with a well-planned transition period, amalgamation could be successfully achieved and represent a common good,” he said.

He said An Taisce members have always believed in developing the West coast as a counter-balance to Dublin “and that in rural Ireland the maintenance, development and regeneration of our rural towns and villages should be held to remain paramount, if rural areas are to be encouraged to renew themselves, and are to prosper.”

Mr Hambleton added: “Over recent years, a situation has developed where in many areas of our regional development, there has been contrived an, unhealthy, political competition between the city and county councillors over where new industrial, business and housing developments are to be located. Similarly, it is also to be seen in the construction of new roads and motorways.

“Particularly, as can be seen with the historic yet controversial development of a bypass in Galway City which is, paradoxically, being directed by a team of engineers led by the County Council. Yet the majority of this proposed new road will run through the city itself.

“With a single administration in place, it should be possible for all future strategic economic development to be put where it would do the most good, and in ensuring the balance of social, environmental and competitive advancement for the whole city and of the county, as a single unit.”

The Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Galway published last week endorsed a 2015 report by a Galway Local Government Committee, which unanimously recommended the establishment of a new unified Galway authority rather than boundary alteration or retention of the status quo.

The recommendation for amalgamation of the local authorities “no later than 2021” requires ministerial and Oireachtas backing.

Junior Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan said he would bring the proposals to government in the coming days.

CITY TRIBUNE

Councillors zone land for residential use despite concerns over flooding

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From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has voted to allow for the future development of housing on a large parcel of land on the Headford Road (photographed and shaded red) which had previously been designated for recreation and “water-based activity”.

The land, which is situated below sea level, has been designated as being in a Flood Zone A area by the Office of Public Works (OPW), meaning that “vulnerable usage” such as housing should not be considered there.

BY ANDREW HAMILTON

During a meeting to approve the Galway City Development Plan 2023-29, councillors voted to reject the recommendation of its own Chief Executive, and in doing so opened the door for the future development of the 1.3-hectare (3.2-acre) site.

The land, which overlooks Terryland Forest Park, was also identified as a flood risk in the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management report (CFRAM).

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG), proposed that the local authority should ignore the submissions of the OPW and the CFRAM report and rezone the land as residential.

“To say that this land should only be for water-based activity is not correct. To say that all of this land is a floodplain is also incorrect,” he said.

“It is below sea level but because of the dyke, it is not going to flood. There is a bit of land at the bottom [of the site] which is a flood risk, but I would imagine, if plans do go forward for this site, that area would be left open. Some of the land is borderline [flood risk] but not all of it.”


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


This proposal was opposed by a number of councillors including Cllr Owen Hanley (SocDems).

“I would say that 80 per cent if not more [of the site] is in a flood risk area or is of concern. Also, if you develop part of it, you make the rest of it more at risk of flooding because the water is diverted there,” he said.

“While I respect that councillors are arguing in good faith, I am concerned about the way that we are discussing flood risks in this development plan overall.

“It would be inappropriate, given the advice that we have been given, to make this change.”

Despite these objections, councillors voted by a margin of 10 to 4 to rezone the land.

This decision may put the council on a collision course with the Minister of the Environment, Eamon Ryan, as the newly formed Office of Planning Regulators (OPR) had opposed this rezoning. The role of the OPR is to ensure that local development plans are in line with national regulations.

It is expected that the OPR may refer this decision to the Minister for the Environment, who has the power to overrule this decision by Galway City Council.

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CITY TRIBUNE

240 student bed spaces in Galway are ‘just a drop in the ocean’

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From the Galway City Tribune – State-assisted student accommodation is a step in the right direction, but the 242 beds announced for Galway are just a “drop in the ocean”.

That’s according to the President of University of Galway (UG) Students’ Union, Sai Gujulla, who told the Galway City Tribune that while they welcomed the announcement that Government was to begin investing in student beds, it would do nothing to address the crisis in the sector in the short term.

The Government announced this week that for the first time, it would provide State assistance “to stimulate the development of new and additional student accommodation” – financially supporting the construction of 242 on-campus student beds at UG.

However, Mr Gujulla said the number was nowhere near what was required and the proposal formed part of a long-term strategy which didn’t address the very real crisis being faced by students right now.

“It is a welcome announcement, but it’s not sufficient for what’s required.

“It will take a number of years for this to take effect and so it will do nothing for students who need accommodation right now,” he said, adding that the number of students commuting daily to Galway from all over the country was at all-time high as a result of the accommodation shortage.


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


Minister of State and TD for Galway West, Hildegarde Naughton (FG), said the policy would “ensure affordability for all students” by ensuring costs are kept to a minimum during the construction phase.

“This new policy will see 242 student beds delivered in the first phase by the University of Galway, with ATU also given funding to develop its own proposals to provide affordable student accommodation.

“The focus of this policy is to ensure affordability for students and this Government will ensure that costs are kept to a minimum, thus providing more affordable rents,” said Minister Naughton.

Mr Gujulla said it was imperative that this commitment was met and that when Government said affordable, it was affordable for students and parents on low incomes.

“We’ve heard before that accommodation would be affordable, but it must be affordable for all and not just some people,” he said, adding that means testing, similar to that used for accessing the SUSI grant, should be considered as a way of setting rents.

Minister Naughton said this scheme was the beginning of a new policy on student accommodation aimed at making third level education more accessible.

“I look forward to seeing this new scheme rolled out across all our tertiary educational facilities in Galway,” said the Fine Gael TD.

Meanwhile, Mr Gujulla said students were still struggling to find accommodation in the city, despite being back at college for three months.

“We have new cases with the same problems every day and with new Erasmus (European) students and postgraduates arriving in January, it will continue,” he said.

“Rents are still extremely high and they’re not going down and while this intervention by Government is positive, it needs to go further and we need something to address the immediate problem too.”

(Photo: The Goldcrest student accommodation in Corrib Village. University of Galway owns large tracts of land in the area).

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CITY TRIBUNE

New life breathed into derelict Blackrock cottage

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From the Galway City Tribune – Boasting one of the most spectacular views in the country from a reimagined building marrying old and new, Blackrock Cottage on Salthill Prom finally opened this week after a labour of love by its new caretakers.

During a tour of the spectacular outdoor dining pods with chef Martin O’Donnell on the eve of its unveiling, at least four people approached, curious about how the derelict Famine-era building was brought back to life.

“That happens every time I’m out here,” says Martin, who hails from just up the road in Barna.

“The level of interest in this place is unbelievable.”

Most new eateries have to work for footfall. This one has potential customers passing by morning, noon and night, even during the depths of the wildest winter. It’s an unrivalled location opposite that most iconic symbol Galway – the Blackrock diving tower.

Brían McHugh from McHugh Property Holdings Ltd bought the cottage from the previous owner, the late Mary Sjothun (née Flynn) in 2018. Initially turned down for planning permission by Galway City Council, on appeal the design for bringing back the old to life and creating a new light-filled modern extension with a bike rental and repair station on the site was approved by An Bord Pleanála.

The project took 18 months to build during a difficult Covid period, when materials and workers were in short supply.


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


“We didn’t have to keep the cottage as it wasn’t listed. But we wanted to be respectful of an 1830s cottage and its history. So we worked with Galway City Conservation Officer Jim Higgins to keep the beams, the slates on the roof and lime mortar – we’ll finish the whitewashing when we get a dry spell,” explains Brían.

“I think Sean Dockry architects have made a great job of creating a commercially viable building with a modern extension, marrying the old with the new while maximising the views.”

The raised terraces, one of them with a firepit, have all been designed to allow people to sit in sheltered areas while looking out over Galway Bay. The garden has been landscaped with herbs and edible flowers that will be used in the kitchen.

The second phase of the site, expected to be completed next March, will develop a bigger barbecue area with seating for up to 60 people. The bicycle rental area will be added if the greenway becomes a reality.

The takeaway part of the café will be run by the Álainn team, who ran the pop-up coffee van and later container beside the site offering superfood pots and delicious coffee by the Burren roaster Anam Coffee that became such a hit with swimmers and walkers during the pandemic.

Breakfast and lunch will be walk-ins only, with dinner to be offered early next year. The menu is described as contemporary modern Irish using top class local producers that have a good working relationship with Martin. He was head chef in The Twelve in Barna for 15 years and has a slot on Ireland AM on Virgin Media TV.

Things to expect on the menu are pulled confit of duck with eggs benedict, lamb shank and poké bowls with in-house cured fish.

“There’s nothing like this in the west of Ireland – I don’t think there’s anything like this anywhere in the country – a space like this, with so many tables, four inches from the water,” says Martin.

“We’re mid-price range. Blackrock Cottage was always built for the local people, not the elite. We’ll have amazing quality food that will be affordable.”

Brían declines to reveal the extent of the investment in this venture. His company also owns the nearby driving range and the Spinnaker Hotel, as well as various development sites in the city and suburbs.

“It’s not cheap to bring a 200-year-old cottage back to life. But I’m delighted we didn’t take the easy option and we saved a piece of Galway history.”

(Photo by Brian Harding: Gerard O’Donoghue, Operations Manager; Mathieu Teulier, General Manager and Martin O’Donnell, Head Chef at Blackrock Cottage restaurant).

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