The chances of Galway ever regaining a viable commercial airport will be lost if the City Council continues to view it as a valuable land bank, councillors have claimed.
At a meeting of the local authority, Councillor Niall McNelis said it would be short-sighted for a growing city to let such a piece of infrastructure go.
Cllr Cathal Ó Conchúir agreed that if the runway was lost that it would be gone forever.
Members were reacting to a notice issued under Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001, which would grant temporary leasehold on lands at Galway Airport, Carnmore, to Galway Flying Club Ltd. for the period of December 22 2017 to December 21 2018.
Tom Connell, Director of Services for Transportation, Recreation, and Amenity, stated that this would be “a temporary convenience” for both parties, allowing the Club use of the runway, part of the carpark, and the club house.
He added that the lease agreement would facilitate “ongoing development of the site”.
Cllr Peter Keane said that while he supported the notice, he asked that a three-year lease be afforded to the club. He added that it would be a sad day for Galway to see the airport lands unavailable for flying, and the extension would give the Club security of tenure.
City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, cautioned against the longer lease.
“The Club, as long as there is nothing else on the agenda, can continue to use it,” he said.
Members were told that the future of the 115 acres – bought in 2013 for just over €1m – was not envisaged to include flying.
“It was bought as a brownfield site, as the crow flies it’s 4.5km from Eyre Square, and is a very important transport corridor,” he said.
“It has been bought with huge potential – all uses have been considered, but it is a fundamentally important ground bank.”
He said that the tenure had been extended to the Club on a short-term basis, on the understanding that it would not continue if a “major economic project came forward”.
“We are currently involved in a tendering process for use of the hangars as TV hubs – there has been quite a bit of interest expressed on a short-term leasing basis,” Mr McGrath added.
He said that the issue of maintaining the runway – so that it could be viable for future use – was short-sighted, as the “extremely dated” equipment would cost in excess of €10m to bring it up to current requirements.
Furthermore, he said that the length of the runway would not accommodate anything bigger than a 14-seater jet.
“When the previous applicant was there, 62 aircraft landed in one year. A feasibility study two years ago, identified (suitable use as) a creative and film hub at the site. The hangars can be utilised on a short-term basis – TG4 used them for a 1916 documentary . . . the airport was identified in the Galway 2020 programme as a site where large-scale events can be held.
“There have been further proposals for the site, promoters are meeting with myself next week. The long-term use is most likely a brownfield economic development site.
“Given the nature of the enquiries, the proposal could materialise – now that the M18 is opened – I don’t want to tie your hands [with a longer lease]. I wouldn’t recommend a three-year contract in relation to current discussions.”
The site was bought as an investment with Galway County Council four years ago, and members heard that it costs each local authority €50,000 in annual running costs.