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CITY TRIBUNE

Cllrs up in arms at ‘appalling’ penalties levied on derelict buildings

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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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Council rows back on ‘reduced delays’ projections for Kirwan junction

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Motorists have described it as ‘a disaster’ and a former mayor has said the project gave very poor value for money, but Galway City Council have this week asked the public to be patient with the revamped Kirwan junction, close to the Menlo Park Hotel.

Since the four-arm signalled junction opened early last week, motorists have complained of traffic queues stretching back to the Quincentenary Bridge and Corrib Park.

And now the Council has rowed back on its consultants’ claims that the junction would increase capacity by 15% and reduce waiting times by 25%.

Former mayor and local taxi driver, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that given the negative impact of the junction on traffic, the €5 million spent on the project represented ‘very poor value’ as regards taxpayers’ money.

“I will admit that the junction is now safer for pedestrians in that they can hit a button to give them a safe crossing, but since it opened there have some very serious traffic tailbacks,” said Cllr Fahy.

However, City Council Acting Director of Services for Transport, Uinsinn Finn, told the Galway City Tribune that the new junction needed time to ‘bed in’ with a familiarisation process.

“The main objectives of this project were to make far safer for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, as well as making it safer for motorists too, without impacting [negatively] on the traffic flow,” said Mr Finn.

He added that since it opened – and over the coming few weeks – data on all aspects of how the junction was functioning would be compiled which could involve changes to light sequencing, lanes and peak traffic flows.

One motorist who contacted this newspaper said that the daily “nightmare” journey from the Barna Road to the Headford Road during the morning peak traffic time had added up to 40 minutes to his journey time.

“The two lanes are regularly gridlocked from the junction, back the N6, over the Quincentenary Bridge and back to Corrib Park.

“In the mornings, it’s now easier to go down Taylor’s Hill and into town, past Eyre Square and up Bohermore to get down to the Headford Road.

Councillors were told by consultants in 2017 and again in 2018 – when they voted to proceed with the changeover to a junction – that average delays would be reduced by 25% and junction capacity would increase by 15%.
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

Man hospitalised following Eyre Square assault

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Gardaí have appealed to the public for information into an assault in Eyre Square last weekend which led to a young man being hospitalised.

The victim of the assault – a man in his early 20s from the city area – suffered a cut to his knee and may have had a substance sprayed towards his eyes.

Following the incident – that occurred close to the Eyre Square taxi rank shortly after midnight on Saturday night last – the victim was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Galway.

It is understood that the victim was released later that morning and has made a full recovery. This week, Gardaí are poring over CCTV footage in an effort to try and identify the perpetrators of the assault.

The assailants are understood to have fled on foot after the incident towards St Patrick’s Avenue on the east side of Eyre Square.

A Garda spokesperson has appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity of the taxi rank on Eyre Square between 12 midnight and 12.30am on the Sunday morning (Saturday night) of July 25 last, and who may have witnessed the incident to contact them.

(Photo: the assailants fled on foot towards St Patrick’s Avenue off Eyre Square)
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

Council turns down controversial phone mast plan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Galway City Council has refused an application by Eircom to erect a 12-metre telecoms mast in a housing estate in Knocknacarra.

The local authority turned down the company’s application for planning permission to install the structure in the heart of Drom Óir over concerns that it would create a visual obstruction in a residential area – and would have a detrimental impact on property prices.

Eircom had also sought retention to keep a concrete foundation for the mast in situ after it was forced to abandon works earlier this year, amid protests from residents in Drom Óir and Leitir Burca. This was also rejected.

City planners issued the company with a warning letter in April to cease works after contractors on site drew the ire of nearby residents, who accused Eircom of seeking to install the mast ‘by stealth’.

A total of 26 letters of objection were submitted to the Council from residents of the two estate.
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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