City municipal sports stadium plan wins support of councillors

City councillors have unanimously voted to include the provision for a municipal sports stadium in the Draft City Development Plan 2017-2023.

Connacht Rugby called for the inclusion of an objective to develop a modern rugby stadium in the Draft Plan, along with changing facilities at existing sports pitches and for the provision of all-weather rugby pitches.

However, the advice from the Council’s Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, was that there be no amendment to the Draft Plan as there are already provisions made in it for sports facilities in the city.

Cllr Ollie Crowe said that this was not a sufficient answer, recognising a huge shortage.

“The city is crying out for facilities – I believe that funding needs to be provided, and the easy way out is to say it can’t be done due to ‘operational issues,’” he said.

“Every councillor recognises the contribution that Connacht Rugby has made to the city. We need to compete at the highest level for 24 months, and facilitate 12,000 in a stadium on a green field site in the docklands. The numbers in the Sportsground continue to be at 9,000 (fans).”

Cllr Peter Keane agreed that the city needed premier facilities in the form of a municipal stadium, that would be for more than just sport.

“It would show how this Council can stand behind Connacht Rugby and the community,” he said.

He proposed an amended version of the submission: “to include a reference to the development of a modern municipal sports arena in the appropriate chapters of the plan”.

This was seconded by Cllr Donal Lyons, and unanimously passed by members.

Meanwhile, it was decided that the issue of sports facilities in other areas of the city was important enough to be dealt with separately.

Cllr Mike Cubbard had proposed improvements in specific areas, but Mr McGrath cautioned against a selection being made on an ad-hoc basis.

Cllr Anna Marley agreed, saying that it was not the proper practice to choose areas without a strategy. Cllr Declan McDonnell said that the areas mentioned in the Connacht Rugby submission were areas specific to the club’s needs, rather than the city as a whole.

“There needs to be a study of the infrastructure across the city – if you’re going to pick two or three sites in one area, that will cause a row with the other councillors.

“We should examine the city as a whole. Mervue, Renmore, and Knocknacarra are well looked after – that will show up by examining the city as a whole, and see where the deficiencies are.”

Cllr Cubbard referred to such a report – the recreational and amenity review, dated January 2008.

“That report was a waste of time, it was left on the shelf and never looked at again,” he said.

However, with the rest of the Council in agreement with the Chief Executive, Cllr Cubbard withdrew his motion.

The Chief Executive of Connacht Rugby put forward a strong case to Galway City Council for the construction of a modern stadium in the city – which could also be used for concerts and conferences.

In a submission on the Draft City Development Plan for 2017-23, Willie Ruane said the direct economic contribution from Connacht Rugby to the city in 2015 was €13 million.

“Connacht Rugby plays all its home games at the Sportsground. The Sportsground, if this is where Connacht will remain, is in need of redevelopment in order to provide spectators with adequate facilities and, equally, to complement/match Galway’s aim to be a world class, creative and innovative city.

“A new modern stadium has the potential to open new opportunities for conferencing and concerts and an improved large-scale city centre location for the existing festival calendar,” his submission reads.

He called on councillors to include an objective in the new City Development Plan for “the development of an appropriate modern stadium that will enhance Galway City’s tourism offering and support professional and community rugby, the arts and other significant events”.

He added: “The provision of floodlit synthetic rugby pitches … unlike other cities, Galway does not have any. Given the average rainfall in Galway and the subsequent unavailability of grass pitches for long periods during the rugby season, the absence of such a facility greatly impacts on the sporting opportunities for Galway’s rugby playing youths and adults.”