Families waiting more than 10 years for a local authority home in Galway are being passed over because of a short-sighted Government policy, the head of Galway City Council’s Housing Policy Committee has claimed.
Councillor Declan McDonnell said that while there were many genuine cases among the dozens of people in Galway registered as homeless, a substantial number were using the system to get priority for social housing allocation.
He pointed to new figures showing that Travellers account for more than 80% of those registered as homeless in County Galway and more than 50% of the homeless in Galway City. The figures were obtained from the local authorities by Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish.
“When you consider the fact that Travellers represent just 1.5% of the population of County Galway and 2.2% of the population of Galway City, and yet they make up the majority of those classified as homeless, it doesn’t make sense.
“It’s not like fifty years ago when you had substantial numbers of Travellers living on the side of the road and there was a genuine high level of homelessness among them,” said Cllr McDonnell.
He said that the Minister for Housing had back in January promised a new scheme that would promote the availability of affordable houses.
“We were told that would be published by now, but it hasn’t come. In the meantime, the Government has instructed that priority be given to those registered as homeless in the allocation of new housing.
“All they are doing is fighting one fire, while in the background people are being caught in the middle, people who have been ten years and more on the local authority waiting list are being passed over in favour of others who have only been there for a few months.
“It’s a short-sighted policy, when we don’t have another policy in place to help people who are being caught in the middle.
“Obviously there are many families who are genuinely homeless and urgently need accommodation, but there are a substantial number of others who are ‘gaming the system’, claiming to be homeless when in reality they are not.”
Cllr McDonnell insisted that he was not looking for Travellers to be treated differently that the rest of the community. “I’m looking for equal rights here for everyone.”
He warned that the current policy would lead to the creation of unbalanced housing estates and unsustainable communities.
“We have had this in two instances elsewhere in the county, where in one case four out of seven houses were allocated to Travellers.
“We cannot repeat this mistake in the city – It is vitally important that we continue to have balanced estates in Galway. There has to be integration, certainly, but it doesn’t have to be to the detriment of everybody else.”
Cllr McDonnell said that the current situation was not the fault of the staff of the local authorities. “This the deck of cards they have been dealt, this is government policy that they have to implement.”
He said the Government needed to act quickly to help people caught in the ‘middle income trap’, those earning between €35,000 and €60,000, who would never get a mortgage and they only way they would ever have a home of their own would be to get a subsidised house.
“There are groups of such people in Galway City willing to form a co-operative to build affordable houses for those in the middle income bracket and all they need is a site.
“There are others with low incomes who work with Galway City Partnership and want to build modular timber-frame houses at a cost of about €50,000 to €60,000 each for themselves using their skill, but again they need a subsidised site.
“The Credit Union has agreed to work with Galway City Partnership and to consider loans for these people and this would also take more people off the housing waiting list, but they need a serviced site. These guys are skilled lads, between them they would build the houses themselves – the houses come in packs – and they would bring the costs down by doing it this way.
“We had dozens of homes built in a similar way in places like the Monivea Road, in Glenina Heights and Meadow Grove back in the 1970s when co-ops got land cheaply and built their own homes. This is in its infancy at the moment, but it shows that there are ideas out there that need red tape lifted,” said Cllr McDonnell.
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.