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Cllr’s about-turn on Crown – after being ‘hoodwinked’


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Cllr’s about-turn on Crown – after being ‘hoodwinked’ Cllr’s about-turn on Crown – after being ‘hoodwinked’

A city councillor who voted to approve an application for a €45.5 loan for Galway City Council to move City Hall to Mervue is having second thoughts about the proposal.

Councillor Imelda Byrne (FF) this week said she has “a lot of reservations” about the local authority’s plan to buy the Crown Square building to relocate Council offices from College Road.

She told Galway City Tribune the decision last July was “rushed”, and councillors were not fully informed by management when they voted.

She added she does not see how the costly move will benefit the citizens of Galway.

Cllr Byrne plans to persuade colleagues on the City Council to revisit the issue and review their approval of the property deal.

“I’m not happy with the process. I feel it was completely rushed through. Overall, I struggle to see the gain for the citizens of Galway by this move, especially when remote working legislation has come on board amongst other things. I have a lot of reservations about it. I intend to talk to my colleagues before the next meeting,” Cllr Byrne said.

The first-time councillor voted last July to give Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, the authority to apply for a loan to purchase the new office block built by local construction company JJ Rhatigan.

Like all councillors, she was briefed about the matter on a Wednesday, and three working days later, at the July Ordinary meeting, voted in favour of it.

She said she voted for it, “but even at that stage I did have some reservations because I really felt it was rushed through”.

A week after the vote, Cllr Byrne told a City Development Plan meeting that she felt “hoodwinked” because she understood the College Road site would be used for social housing. But instead, a specific objective to undertake an analysis to assess “the best sustainable options for the future of the site” that would “unlock” its potential was inserted into the new development plan, which may or may not include social housing.

It remains her position that she was hoodwinked.

“At the time, I felt it was maybe the right move, even with my reservations. The only thing that swung me was the fact that they said it (College Road site) would be used for housing for the elderly once they sell it. But as time went on, and I was getting more information, I struggle to see how the move can be of benefit for the city,” she said.

Cllr Byrne said a better option would be to retain City Hall at College Road, and open satellite offices in each electoral area.

“I’m hoping that this can be considered again at the next Council meeting, subject to discussions with my own colleagues. I just cannot see the gain for the city.

“I’d much prefer to retain City Hall at College Road and have outreach places, off-site, for example in Westside, Mervue and Cappagh Road to serve the people in those areas.

“It seems ridiculous that a 40-year-old building is going to be demolished, and it was only refurbished in the early 2000s. We didn’t have enough information. It was only afterwards when I started to ask questions myself; what other buildings were looked at?

“In my limited time on the Council, I’ve never seen such a quick turnaround on a vote on something. In July, I wanted them to reconsider the decision. That hasn’t changed, even having met with the Director of Services since, I’m still not convinced about this,” Cllr Byrne added.

Mr McGrath has confirmed the purchase did not go through a public procurement process. The cost of the deal – to move from College Road and fit out the new building –  is €56.5m.

As well as the €45.5 million loan, some €11m from the City Council’s own resources need to be found.

A loan repayment of €880,000 has been budgeted for in 2023, and some €2 million will need to be found every year for 29 years.

Council management pointed to inadequacies in the City Hall building, which would be addressed in Crown Square, as well as savings on renting offices for extra staff as reasons for the move. The potential for social housing at College Road was another ‘carrot’.

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