The amount of money collected by Galway City Council from the owners of derelict sites has been blasted as “appalling” – as anger mounts over the number of dilapidated buildings blighting the city’s image.
Members of the Council’s Strategic Policy Committee on Environment, Recreation and Amenity were informed at their last meeting that, since 2010, a total of €51,038 had been levied on the owners of the 20 derelict sites listed on the local authority’s register.
To their chagrin, it was revealed that only €31,450 of that had been collected while the balance has been written off – having been deemed “uncollectable”.
Fianna Fáil councillor, Peter Keane, lambasted members of the Council Executive for failing to collect more, given that some of the sites on the register are above seven figures in value.
“I am appalled that this local authority has only levied €51,000 with regard to derelict sites – when is this local authority going to get serious about derelict sites?
“To suggest that is acceptable at any level, in this day and age, is appalling and we should be ashamed of ourselves,” exclaimed Cllr Keane.
Sites are placed on the Derelict Sites Register following a process which involves engaging with the property owner in an effort to remove the dereliction.
Once the site has been entered on the register, the local authority can implement a three per cent levy based on the market value of the property.
More focus should be placed on collecting what is owed rather than assisting the owners of these properties, said Cllr Keane adding, “that €50,000 would become €500,000 or €5 million very quickly”.
Local Councillor, Pádraig Conneely, was aghast that while the Council has carried out 46 inspections of properties, many of which are not on the register, it cannot reveal those properties as a result of Data Protection legislation.
“It is the same derelict sites time and time again. I note from the report that since 2010, a total of €51,000 was fined but you wrote off €20,000 of that – it seems very little to me and it would cost nearly as much in legal fees and inspections.
“You have here, ‘I am unable to issue a list of sites inspected’, under data protection – does that mean we are not allowed to know what you are doing,” queried the Fine Gael councillor.
Community representatives on the SPC expressed disappointment at the slow pace of action on derelict properties with Brendan Smith calling them a “cancer on the city”.
Caroline Stanley made reference to the Corrib Great Southern which appears on the register as having had the “majority of works completed”.
“Does that mean that it can stay there for another 10 years the way it is, because it is boarded up,” asked Ms Stanley.
Independent Councillor, Colette Connolly, said Galway should be following Louth’s lead in acquiring derelict sites by Compulsory Purchasing Order (CPO) to add to their housing stock.
“Louth County Council managed to do this with 50 properties and they tell me that if they cannot get the details of the owners from the land register, they hire a private company to do it for them.
“I cannot understand why we can’t do the same – if there is a staffing issue, let the CEO [Brendan McGrath] and the Director of Services inform us today,” said Cllr Connolly.
Newly appointed Acting Director of Services for the Environment, Gary McMahon, said that while he understood the frustration of members, the Council’s aim with this legislation was to remove the dereliction rather than generate income.
“The purpose of this is to remove dereliction or to mitigate it – it is not a revenue-raising function. Similarly, this is not an adjunct to our housing purposes.
“The €20,000 was written off because they were statute barred [passed the period of limitations],” he said.
Mr McMahon said that the council had bought two properties by CPO but there were few opportunities to add to the housing stock from those properties on the register.
“We cannot give names of the 46 properties for data protection reasons – I am not using it as a cloak of invisibility. If you can identify the property, you can identify the owners and may be subject to future litigation,” he explained.
Accepting some of the criticisms from Cllr Keane, Mr McMahon said that a different approach may be needed in the future which could involve cross-departmental co-operation.
Zoning for houses ‘could impact Galway City Ring Road plan’
Councillors have voted to rezone farming land in Rahoon to allow for houses to be developed, against the advice of planners who warned it could impact on the planned Galway City Ring Road.
The Office of Planning Regulator and Chief Executive of Galway City Council both advised elected members not to change the zoning use from agricultural to residential on the 2.842-hectare (7-acre) site. But it was passed with 14 in favour, three against and one absent.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind), who proposed the motion, said there was a need for more land to be zoned residential to facilitate the growth in population of 40,000 over the next 18 years. Cllr Noel Larkin seconded his proposal.
Brendan McGrath, the Chief Executive, said there was “no requirement to rezone additional land for residential purposes to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029”.
He said there was sufficient zoned land available to enable development.
The OPR said voting to change the zoning represented a piecemeal approach to planning and was inconsistent with national and regional policy.
“It is also considered that the proposed rezoning could prejudice the strategic future optimal use of these lands in the longer term. With regard to impact on the objective for the N6 Galway City Ring Road Scheme (GCRR), all development has to take cognisance of the objective for the N6 GCRR.
“It is also noted that the draft plan includes that the objective for the N6 GCRR has priority over all land use zoning objectives which is considered to provide sufficient protection to safeguard the scheme objective,” Mr McGrath said.
The National Transport Authority said this rezoning should not be allowed as it is likely to lead to development that was “wholly car-dependent and contrary to national and regional objectives”.
Cash-strapped students targeted by drug dealers, policing meeting hears
Cash-strapped students in Galway are being targeted by drug lords to act as money mules, a city councillor has warned.
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) made the remarks at a public meeting of the City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) and said that the €667,000 worth of drugs seized by city gardaí in the first 10 months of the year “is only the tip of the iceberg”.
The meeting at the Connacht Hotel heard that some €45 million passed through the accounts of so-called money mules nationwide this year alone.
Cllr Cheevers said drug dealers were targeting young people in particular.
“They’re in the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket and college students are being targeted,” said Cllr Cheevers.
It was revealed that cocaine was by far the most common drug seized in Galway, making up over half of all the drugs detected – cocaine valued at €348,000 was seized in the 10 months to the end of October.
This was closely followed by cannabis, of which €260,000 worth was taken off the streets by gardaí, while the remainder of the total was made up by heroin, ecstasy and other illegal drugs.
Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche said the drugs problem was “unquantifiable” and promised that city gardaí were “attacking money laundering in a targeted and systematic way”.
Drugs were not only an urban problem but were a huge issue in county towns as well, he said, and all gardaí, from uniformed to armed response, were focused on the issue.
“Roads policing are taking a targeted role in tackling it as well,” said Chief Supt Roche.
“A new strategy is starting tomorrow,” he said at the meeting..
“Getting involved in being a money mule is a personal choice. We can warn and caution people against it.
“We can say so much but people continue to do things that are illegal,” he added.
‘Furore’ over rezoning plan for access to B&B on Headford Road in Galway
From the Galway City Tribune – Councillors have voted to rezone a small section of Terryland Forest Park from recreational and amenity use to residential.
A majority of elected members also approved the insertion of a specific objective into the new Galway City Development Plan 2023-29 that would allow an entrance to the site through Sandyvale Lawn.
This was to facilitate safe access to a home and B&B business off Headford Road, which had become dangerous due to the recent changeover of Kirwan roundabout to a traffic lights junction.
Residents of Sandyvale Lawn, a 100+ housing estate off Headford Road, had objected to the proposals, and so too had Tuatha Terryland Forest Park, an alliance of volunteers and organisations.
The Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) and Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, as well as his planning department and recreational and amenity department, had all objected to the changes.
The rezoning, and insertion of a specific objective to facilitate an entrance to the estate, was contained in the same material alteration that came before councillors, but they were obliged to vote on them separately.
Several councillors argued that a new entrance to Sandyvale Lawn was necessary to facilitate safe access to a B&B on Headford Road.
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Cllr Mike Crowe (FF) said the family who owned this business and home had been treated poorly by the City Council during the reconfiguration of the Kirwan roundabout to a signalised junction.
Referencing the large opposition to the proposal, he said the “furore over this is astounding” and argued the impact on green space and the Sandyvale Lawn estate would be minimal.
Cllr Crowe said the proposal was about creating a safe exit and entrance.
Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said there had been a number of near misses of cars coming in and out of the B&B, which were captured on video.
He said the current system, whereby an amber traffic light allows access to the B&B was “haphazard and dangerous”. He feared there would be a fatality if a new entrance was not approved.
“I don’t like to rezone RA [Recreational & Amenity] land but in this situation we don’t have a choice. We have to remedy a dangerous situation,” Cllr Fahy said.
Cllr Colette Connolly (Ind) said RA land was “absolutely sacrosanct” and she would not vote to rezone.
She asked what the legal position was regarding a rezoning of green space, which residents claimed had been paid for through a green levy applied 40 years ago when the estate was built.
Cllr Owen Hanley (Soc Dem) said he had voted initially to include the material alteration to support the B&B owners, as the removal of the roundabout had made access more dangerous for them.
But he said he would now support the residents of Sandyvale Lawn who had opposed the change.
Cllr Declan McDonnell said the family had lived there for 50 years and now it was more dangerous accessing their home through no fault of their own.
He said it was not safe that they have to enter and exit their home on an amber flashing light.
In a submission, residents of Sandyvale Lawn said the new entrance would negatively impact their estate, by increasing traffic, noise and an addition risk to children playing. They said it could be turned into another rat run like Ballinfoile and Tirellan. They also argued against the loss of green space.
Submissions also objected to the loss of the green space which was part of Terryland Forest Park, dubbed the ‘lungs of the city’.
Mr McGrath asked councillors not to rezone the land and not to insert the specific objective for a new entrance.
Both changes, however, were approved. The RA to R rezoning passed by a 12-5 vote and the specific objective for a new entrance passed by 11-5.