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CITY TRIBUNE

Cairn Homes loses bid to keep Knocknacarra land off Vacant Sites Register

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A property company – backed by some of the biggest financiers and investment funds in the world – has failed in its bid to prevent a site it owns in Knocknacarra being added to the Vacant Sites Register.

The ruling by An Bord Pleanála means that Cairn Homes Properties Ltd is liable to pay a levy of 7% of the market value of the site at Upper Ballymoneen Road for 2019 and each subsequent year it lies undeveloped.

The site was valued at €400,000 earlier this year, meaning the company already owes the Council €28,000 for 2019.

The Vacant Sites Register came into effect in 2018 – it is designed to force builders to develop their residential landholdings in areas where there is a need for housing and the site is lying idle.

Under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, the City Council formed the opinion that the greenfield site – beside the Fana Buí estate – had been vacant for a minimum of 12 months.

The Council said that housing supply remained below demand requirements despite the upturn in construction (before the Covid-19 outbreak).

“The scale of unmet housing needs has grown over the period of the previous and current City Development Plan and requires an increase in housing output,” the Council said.

Cairn Homes subsequently appealed that decision to An Bord Pleanála and said the site formed part of a larger landholding on the western side of the Ballymoneen Road for which they were planning an application under Strategic Housing Development legislation, where plans for more than 100 homes or 200 student bed spaces are lodged directly with An Bord Pleanála rather than the local authority.

The company said the proposed N6 Galway City Ring Road bisects the northern section of the site and without a detailed design of the road, it could not progress the planning application.

The Council told the Board that Cairn Homes had sufficient information on the ring road to allow them advance a planning application – details of site access were provided by Arup, the consultants behind the ring road plan.

However, the Board ruled that the site is vacant, paving the way for it to be added to the register.

“It is evident that the bypass route does not directly impact upon the subject vacant site. The subject site is accessible from the Ballymoneen Road and, therefore, is not reliant on the bypass for access.

“I am not satisfied that an application for residential development could not be progressed on the subject lands pending the resolution of the final layout of the bypass if approved.

“Development could be progressed on a phased basis in accordance with an overall masterplan, with a first phase on the subject site. This in my view would not constitute piecemeal development.

“It is also detailed that the appellant has been proactively progressing a masterplan for the site and has carried out a number of surveys including topographical survey, site investigations, ecological assessment and archaeological assessment and, therefore, that the lands are not idle. Having regard to the nature of the surveys described by the appellant, I am satisfied that these do not constitute development works. The lands remain vacant or idle,” Senior Planning Inspector Erika Casey ruled.

Major investors in Cairn Homes – where the former CEO of KBC Bank serves on the board – include Moore Capital, which is operated by Wall Street billionaire Louis Bacon; JP Morgan Asset Management; Lansdowne Partners and GLG Partners, some of the biggest investment fund managers in Britain.

Cairn’s CEO and founder is Michael Stanley, a director and former CEO of Stanley Holdings – the company behind the controversial Belmayne development in North Dublin, which was launched at the height of the boom in 2007 by footballer Jamie Redknapp and his popstar wife, Louise.

CITY TRIBUNE

Mercury hit 30°C for Galway City’s hottest day in 45 years

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –

Wednesday was the hottest day in the city over the past 45 years when with a high of 30.1 Celsius being recorded at the NUI Galway Weather Station.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the city dates back to June 30, 1976, when the late Frank Gaffney had a reading of 30.5° Celsius at his weather station in Newcastle.

Pharmacists and doctors have reported a surge in people seeking treatment for sunburn.

A Status Yellow ‘high temperature warning’ from Met Éireann – issued on Tuesday – remains in place for Galway and the rest of the country until 9am on Saturday morning.

It will be even hotter in the North Midlands, where a Status Orange temperature warning is in place.

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of our current heatwave has been the above average night-time temperatures and the high humidity levels – presenting sleeping difficulties for a lot of people.
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

Property Tax hike voted down in Galway City

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A proposal to boost Galway City Council coffers by half a million euro every year by increasing Local Property Tax (LPT) did not receive the support of city councillors.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF) failed to get a seconder at this week’s local authority meeting for his motion to increase the LPT payable on Galway City houses by 5%.

Cllr Keane said that the increase would net the Council €500,000 every year, which could be spent evenly on services across all three electoral wards.

It would be used to fund services and projects city councillors are always looking for, including a proposal by his colleague Cllr Imelda Byrne for the local authority to hire additional staff for city parks.

The cost to the taxpayer – or property owner – would be minimal, he insisted.

“It would mean that 90% of households would pay 37 cent extra per week,” he said.

Not one of the 17 other elected members, including four party colleagues, would second his motion and so it fell.

Another motion recommending no change in the current rate of LPT in 2022 was passed by a majority.
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

Galway City Council needs 40 more workers to help deliver on projects

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Forty more workers are needed at City Hall ‘right away’, the Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said.

Brendan McGrath has warned city councillors that the local authority is understaffed and it needs to hire more staff immediately to deliver its plans and projects.

The total cost of the extra 40 workers, including salary, would be between €1.75 million and €1.95 million.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council had a workforce now that was below what it had in 2007, but the city’s population has grown and so too had the services the Council provides.

The population of Galway City grew by almost 11% in the 10 years to 2016, he said, and total staff numbers in the Council fell by 13.6% during that period.

Though more staff were hired in recent years, Mr McGrath said that the Council was at 2007 and 2008 staffing levels, even though the Census will record further increases in population since 2016.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council now provides 1,000 services across a range of departments, far more than during the 2000s.

He said that currently, 524 staff are employed at the City Council. This equated to 493 Whole Time Equivalents when part-time workers such as school wardens and Town Hall workers are included.

Mr McGrath said that 12% of all staff are in acting up positions, with many more in short-term or fixed-term contracts. There was a highly competitive jobs market and the Council was finding recruitment and retention of specialist staff difficult.
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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