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Concerns linger over operation of community centre

Dara Bradley

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Fears that the operation of Galway’s two newest community centres could be privatised will linger over Christmas and into the New Year after the matter was kicked to touch again this week.

The model of how Ballinfoile and Knocknacarra Community Centres would be run was due to be discussed at last week’s City Council meeting but elected members voted to defer it until January.

About 10 campaigners, who want the centres to be controlled by the local community and not for-profit organisations, staged a protest outside of City Hall.

Councillors were due to discuss a report by director of services, Eileen Ruane, entitled ‘protecting and enhancing Galway City’s community centres through social enterprise’.

The item was deferred to the January meeting, however.

In her report that was due to be presented to the chamber, Ms Ruane confirms that the City Council was given sanction from Government to breach the recruitment embargo and to hire people to staff Knocknacarra and Ballinfoile community centres.

But, she said, “the Council does not have financial wherewithal to progress this”.

In her report to Council, Ms Ruane said: “Alternative methodologies of service provision do not have to mean privatisation”.

Ms Ruane said the Council wants to progress a model of “social enterprise”.

“The centres would be operated by a professional organisation, community or other, that can display through an open tendering process, that they have the capacity and expertise required to run and manage such facilities. The successful organisation would need to be equipped to manage the complexities of the technical operations of these hi-spec buildings across all areas including health and safety,” she said.

The operators would be “assisted” through a financial subsidy to “ensure the needs of the local communities are prioritised”.

As well as the operator, who wins the tender to run the centre, a “parallel oversight and advisory group would be formed made up of local community reps, local councillors and appropriate Galway City Council official reps.”

But campaigners remain unconvinced. Locals in Ballinfoile are insisting that councillors, “ensure that the new state-of-the-arts sports and community complex that we fought for since 1986 to obtain serves the needs of and is controlled by the local community.”

Ballinfoile-Castlegar Centre Action Committee fears Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath plans “to bring in an outside contractor to form a public-private partnership to run the centre.”

“It is our fear that this arrangement could mean that privatisation could occur sooner or later to the detriment of the local community as profit would take priority over social needs,” said campaigner Brendan Smith.

He said the chief executive gave commitments to the Councillors and community at the November budget meeting that must be kept. These include peak hours retained for local groups and individuals, as well as low rental fees and locals represented on the oversight or management board.

The group also requested this week that local community representation makes up at least 50% of the oversight board; the new jobs that will accrue in this facility will be given to local people where possible, and consideration is given to social enterprise partnership programmes as an alternative to taking in private contractor.

Mr Smith added: “If these just demands are not met, our long struggle will have been all for nought.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site

Dara Bradley

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An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.

The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.

It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.

In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.

“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.

A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.

A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.

It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.

Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.

The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.

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CITY TRIBUNE

NUIG student accommodation firm records loss

Enda Cunningham

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The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.

However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.

Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.

The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.

Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.

The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.

Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.

Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.

The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).

The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.

It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.

As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.

It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.

In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan

Dara Bradley

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Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.

Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.

The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.

It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.

Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.

Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.

“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”

The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.

He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.

“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.

“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.

“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.

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