Bypass delay could lead to withdrawal of State funding
Councillors have been warned that Galway may lose funding for the proposed bypass if they attempt to delay the route selection process.
The warning came from Acting City Chief Executive Joe O’Neill, after motions were put forward to stall the process and to exclude certain areas from route selection.
“Stopping or delaying the process now will make congestion worse and will impede economic development. Funding for [for the bypass] will be spent somewhere else,” said Mr O’Neill.
Just one councillor present, Noel Larkin (Ind), approved of the current route selection process, and said that if any motions to stall it were passed, it would be to the detriment of the city.
Meanwhile, legal opinion is to be sought by councillors on whether a ‘loophole’ can be exploited to exclude lands at Galway Racecourse, NUI Galway and in Menlo from the route selection process.
At a meeting of the local authority this week, four motions (and amendments to those motions) were put forward by councillors on the bypass plans, including one from Fine Gael’s John Walsh, who said a variation should be made to the City Development Plan, whereby lands at Galway Racecourse and NUIG be “excluded from any current or future proposals to develop road infrastructure in the city”.
An amendment to that motion from his party colleague Frank Fahy said that the Menlo village envelope (including a 500 metre exclusion zone), and Coolough, Castlegar and Briarhill also be excluded.
“If we make a variation excluding these locations, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board,” said Cllr Walsh.
However, Mr O’Neill said he had serious reservations about the motions, as the preferred route is set to be announced by the end of April.
He explained that the time period involved in drawing up a variation to the Development Plan, putting it on public display and approving it meant any variation would not be approved before the end of April.
“[On Cllr Walsh’s motion] the legal and practically implications are serious and would be contrary to the strategic objectives of the Development Plan,” said Mr O’Neill.
He added that such a motion would undermine the bypass selection process and therefore the entire project would have to be called into question.
“This is too important. It’s a very challenging and difficult situation. Nobody set out to upset people. Six different groups of people are understandably upset.
“There is no solution that doesn’t involve some negative impacts. When the Quincentenary Bridge was built, a number of homes were demolished. A solution to our problems is urgently needed. We have to have another crossing of the river. This will remove a significant barrier to the economic development of the city,” said Mr O’Neill.
He explained that the European ruling on the original bypass stated that all alternatives had to be looked at, and such a motion would block the alternative.
“You will actually be seen to be actively undermining the process. That motion is probably ultra vires [beyond your powers] – I would strongly recommend it is not adopted,” he said.
Separate motions from Cllr Padraig Conneely (FG) and Catherine Connolly (Ind) called for the route selection process to be halted, while a joint motion from councillors Declan McDonnell, Donal Lyons and Terry O’Flaherty (Independents) called on the consultants to re-examine the routes and prioritise human habitat over wildlife and Special Areas of Conservation.
Cllr Padraig Conneely (FG) said the proposals as they stand are unworkable.
“This is not an outer bypass, it’s an inner-city transport project. This is having a damaging effect on communities, amenities and tourism in all areas as well as businesses and the environment. It wasn’t researched well enough. There were 1,000 submissions sent to the NRA,” said Cllr Conneely.
Cllr McDonnell said he understood the brief for route design was to take traffic out of the city, not bring it back in.
Cllr Mike Cubbard (Ind) said the process was the most undemocratic thing he had seen happen in the city.
“If you gave a child six markers, they could come up with better proposals than this. It’s creating absolute pandemonium among the people,” he said.
Cllr Connolly said it was quite clear that the elected members have no power, but they did have moral power and asked her colleagues to put politics aside and to look at more sustainable long-term solutions to traffic.
It was agreed to defer all motions until March 23, when councillors will hold a special meeting on the bypass.
Safety fears abound over Aran Island’s top attraction
There appears to be no resolution in sight to address serious safety concerns at Inis Mór’s leading tourist attraction.
Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív told the Connacht Tribune that an issue related to parking for various modes of transport continued to frustrate residents and visitors to Inis Mór – and a solution must be found.
“This issue seems to be going on forever,” said Deputy Ó Cuív of the issues at Dún Aonghasa.
“There is a real danger given the large number of people that visit the area and what’s required is improved parking spaces for buses, horse carriages and bicycles at the entrance to the Dún Aonghasa site.
“It also needs to be taken into account that we need to separate horses from buses, and to separate those from cyclists and pedestrians,” said the Fianna Fáil TD.
The lack of sufficient parking was creating gridlock and posing a risk to people travelling the route, continued Deputy Ó Cuív who has called on the Minster of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) to bring the interested parties together to hammer out a solution.
“I am calling on the Minister to convene a roundtable meeting between the island representatives, the OPW and the County Council together with the Department of Rural and Community Development to see how the matter might be addressed.
“I welcome that the present Minister visited the site last year and is aware of the issues, because everyone is very anxious that we get this sorted,” he said.
In a parliamentary question, Deputy Ó Cuív sought an assurance from the Minister of State, Patrick O’Donovan, that he would “organise a roundtable of people with the local authority and the local state-funded development organisation” to address safety concerns on the island.
Responding, Minister O’Donovan said the OPW was progressing a refurbishment of the visitor centre at Dún Aonghasa, while discussions were ongoing relating to traffic management outside the centre.
“I can assure the Deputy that the Office of Public Works will continue such engagement with local stakeholders, including the local authority, and to this end, a meeting will be convened in the coming months as previously agreed,” he said.
Deputy Ó Cuív said it was unfortunate that despite repeated calls for action, the Minister’s response suggested little progress had been made.
“There is a danger here to locals and tourists alike. It is a bad advertisement for the island the way it is at the moment, particularly as this is at one of the premier tourist sites in the country,” he said.
Galway Gardaí on high alert for Presidential visit
Gardaí in Galway are on high alert for a visit to the West from the US President next month.
And while there has been no confirmation of dates yet, garda planning for a mid-April arrival is in full swing.
Cases at Derrynea District Court’s April sitting are being kept to a minimum as it is expected that gardaí will be otherwise detained, a sitting of the court heard this week.
Sergeant Damien Prendergast told Judge Mary Fahy that cases were being put out to May as it was anticipated there would be a “potential visit” from Joe Biden.
“I have been instructed to keep April free as there is a possible presidential visit,” said Sgt Prendergast.
The Connacht Tribune has learned that Galway gardaí are preparing for the visit to take place the week after Easter, with Derrynea Court due to sit on April 18.
The President’s itinerary is being kept under wraps, but a visit to his ancestral home in Co Mayo is highly likely – and the high degree of security required for such a visit is well underway.
It is understood that while there has been no indication that Galway will be on Mr Biden’s schedule, the county’s gardaí would likely be required to bolster security in the neighbouring county.
Judge Fahy, meanwhile, expressed concern about putting court cases back as a result.
“We’re then landed with a huge, big, long list then,” she said.
The US President’s visit was confirmed earlier this month. Mr Biden is expected to spend five days in the country, travelling north during the visit to mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
A Galway Garda spokesperson told the Tribune they were not in a position to confirm any details of their role at this point, nor could they indicate if the visit would take in any part of Galway.
“It’s very much an internal matter for the moment,” they said.
Lidl appeals planning refusal for Claregalway supermarket
A discount supermarket has revealed it will fork out more than €1 million in wages annually if it gets planning permission to provide a new store in Claregalway.
According to Lidl, the decision by Galway County Council to refuse planning earlier this year on a site in the village centre – opposite the Summerfield – was based on “inaccurate assumptions and conclusions”.
The company has now appealed this decision to An Bord Pleanála and a decision on the matter is due at the end of July.
The development of the discount supermarket in Claregalway was rejected by Council planners on the basis that it would make an already chronic traffic situation in the village even worse.
There were more than 20 submissions to the plan by Lidl to establish a discount supermarket and the vast majority of these were in opposition to the proposed development.
Claregalway is one of the most traffic-choked villages in the country and local residents did not want another retail development that would add to the problems.
Tailbacks are a daily occurrence each morning and evening in particular and it was felt by local residents that the development of another supermarket would result in daytime congestion as well.
Planning permission was sought by Lidl for a discount supermarket and ancillary off-licence. It would be a part single and part two storey development in the village centre.
It would have involved the provision of a new access off the Galway road along with the modification of the existing footpaths to create a right turning lane to access the supermarket.
Galway County Council rejected the plan and apart from traffic issues, they cited historical flooding problems on the site and surrounding lands as also a reason for the refusal.
The planners also took issue with the absence of proposals relating to surface water measures on the site. They were not satisfied that the site is not at risk of flooding in the future.
According to Lidl, the store would create around 25 new jobs, generating €1.025 million per annum in wages while €1.5 million would be spent on the construction stage of the discount store.