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Councillors allow change of house use to mosque

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City councillors have paved the way for a house on the outskirts of the city to be used as a Muslim place of worship and congregation, despite strong objections from the Council executive and local residents.

Members voted 11 in favour, and seven against, a material contravention to the City Development Plan in which the Council would consider the use of the dwelling house on agricultural land at Mincloon.

There were 17 submissions made since this amendment to the draft plan went on public display in the autumn – all against the change, on the grounds of the area being an inappropriate location for a place of worship, and would lead to increased traffic congestion.

In July, when the matter first came before councillors, they were told that a decision in favour of the proposal would put the planning process head over heels.

Director of Services, Joe O’Neill, warned that it was “effectively saying the use of the property is to be changed.”

Executive planner, Diane Egan, explained to members that the Muslim community had been granted ‘retention of alteration’ in 2010, with restrictions on how the house was to be used.

“It was to protect the residential amenity of that area,” she said.

Galway City Council’s Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, added: “Condition 2 of this permission stipulates that … the dwelling shall not be used as a place for public assembly, a public hall, place of worship, bed and breakfast, or for any commercial purposes, other than use as a single private dwelling house.

“It wouldn’t be granted if they applied for planning permission,” he told members.

However, a majority of Councillors were inclined to disagree with his recommendation, as was the case when it came back before them last week.

Cllr Cathal Ó Concuir proposed that the alteration be accepted, which was seconded by Cllr Niall McNeilis – the latter said it would be a parish house, in keeping with this being a multicultural city.

On the other hand, Cllr Colette Connolly, supported by Cllr Michael Crowe, proposed the CEO’s recommendations that there be no change.

And so began a very heated debate, fuelled by Cllr Pearce Flannery’s suggestion that the members supporting this were only doing so because they got a free dinner from the applicants.

Cllr Peter Keane described this as “the most appalling thing I’ve heard in entire duration of this Plan.” Cllr Flannery was asked to withdraw his remark, but he refused.

Cllr Frank Fahy, who had received a text message prior to the vote saying “I trust that Galway is a fair city,” said that a vote in favour of this alteration was the right decision for the 3,000 Muslims living here. Furthermore, he said, business and sports clubs had been operating from the area for many years, and the roads had been able to accommodate this usage.

Cllr John Walsh, voting with the submission, said that any issues with the traffic and infrastructure was not the applicant’s problem, but the Council’s or the NRA’s.

Cllr Terry O’Flaherty said that the larger gatherings would be in Westside, and not in Mincloon, so she was supporting the applicant’s submission.

However, Cllr Michael Crowe said that a vote against the applicants should not be seen as being anti-Muslim.

“I’m against it, not because of any religious reason or another, and if Bishop Eamon Casey came through the door wanting to do the same for the Catholic religion, I’d say the same,” he said.

“I get the impression that there may be some offence caused by voting one way or another. But the Mosque in Ballybrit is a purpose-built facility, it met all the requirements. Here, they are looking to change a house into a church, and it simply isn’t suitable.”

Senior planner, Caroline Phelan, agreed that this was a zoning issue, rather than an assessment of something being good or bad.

“The City Council has spent a lot of resources pursuing unauthorised developments,” she said.

“We highlighted all along that they shouldn’t invest money in something that is prohibited. This unauthorised development has been pursued since 2012 … four years of resources have been invested into something that is prohibited. Some of the inspections on this property were done up to midnight. There is a mosque on residential lands in the city.”

The members who voted in favour of the submission were: Billy Cameron, Cathal Ó Conchuir, Padraig Conneely, Mairead Farrell, Peter Keane, Noel Larkin, Declan McDonnell, Niall McNeilis, Terry O’Flaherty, John Walsh, and Mark Lohan.

Against were: Colette Connolly, Michael Crowe, Ollie Crowe, Mike Cubbard, Frank Fahy, Pearce Flannery, and Donal Lyons.

After the vote, Cllr Colette Connolly, said that the decision defied logic.

“It beggars belief, given that the dwelling was granted planning permission, with specific planning conditions attached that expressly forbade the use of the dwelling as a place of worship,” she said.

“This was because of its location in G zoning where all development is restricted to that pertaining to agriculture. The dwelling in Tonabrucky borders onto a very narrow road in close proximity to a junction, where a number of accidents have occurred, according to residents of the area.

She described the rezoning in the City Development Plan to insert the specific objective of a mosque as “a circumvention of the planning laws” and a misuse of the CDP planning process.

“It undermines the Planning Department of Galway City Council, who have effectively now wasted scarce staff resources and taxpayers’ money, thanks to the decision of some councillors, in pursuing enforcement action over the past four years in order to achieve compliance with the original grant of planning permission,” she added.

“I deplore the fact that councillors are portrayed as pro or anti-Muslims, when in fact the issue is simply one of planning.”

She rejected any assertion that she was not for a ‘fair and tolerant Galway’.

CITY TRIBUNE

Plan for ‘world-class’ campus with potential for 10,000 jobs at Galway Airport

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From this week’s Galway CIty Tribune – A proposal to transform the former Galway Airport into a ‘world-class’ business and technology campus has been drawn up by Galway County Council – with the potential to create up to 10,000 jobs.

The plan, which was compiled as part of the Draft County Development Plan, proposes a multi-million-euro investment in the 115-acre site owned jointly by the County and City Councils.

According to the vision document, the airport site at Carnmore could become a key economic driver that would “attract and secure long-term investment in Galway and the western region, and underpin the development of the Galway Metropolitan Area”.

Among the sectors identified as potential occupants are renewable energy, biodiversity, food science and logistics.

Some of the structures included for are a ‘landmark building’; commercial units; park amenity and recreation space; a renewable energy park; and a multi-purpose leisure facility.

A contemporary development with the potential to accommodate emerging industries is promised, with projected employment numbers ranging between 3,500 to 10,000 over time.

However, county councillors raised concerns at a meeting this week that the proposal they had seen in the Development Plan had been ‘sitting on a shelf’ since last March – and they still hadn’t seen what was dubbed ‘the masterplan’ for the airport site.

Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) told the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District meeting that the recent news that Oranmore was among the locations being looked at by multinational tech giant, Intel, put fresh focus on the future of the airport.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Work expected to start on Galway City cycleways next summer

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The first six projects in the city’s major new cycle network are expected to begin construction by next June.

In an update on developments that are in train to improve the lot of cyclists, councillors at this week’s local authority meeting were told that the Martin Roundabout (near the Galway Clinic) would next be changed to a junction and the BusConnects, involving priority bus lanes from Moneenageisha to University Hospital Galway, were advancing.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) has approved a raised cycle lane north of Railway Bridge on Doughiska Road South and for a shared street south of the bridge.

Eglinton Canal will turn into a shared cycle and pedestrian path. Four weeks of public consultation on both of these is set to begin in October, with the projects set to go to detailed design and tender following final NTA approval.

Ballybane, Castlepark and Bóthar Stiofáin Roads will also go to public consultation for “raised adjacent cycle schemes” a month after that.

The six projects are expected to begin construction by the end of June or early July next year.

Millars Lane is currently in preliminary design stage after clearing works were carried out last November.

Options are being examined and parking survey prepared for Threadneedle, Bishop O’Donnell, Dr Mannix, Devon Park, Salthill Road Upper and Lower Roads with input and designs from the Parkmore Strategic Framework awaited for the Monivea and Doughiska North Roads.

Active Travel Schemes had been approved in principle by the NTA for Ballyloughane and Clybaun South Roads, involving pedestrian crossings, traffic calming, signalisation of junctions and the integration of safe school routes.

Cllr John Connolly (FF) noted that the first quarter of 2021 was when some of these projects were to go to construction, according to a previous timetable.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of Pamela’s story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Racecourse Park and Ride a non-runner for Christmas in Galway

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The lack of a park and ride service this Christmas will drive shoppers out of town at a time when businesses are struggling to recover from months in lockdown, the Mayor has warned.

This is after it was revealed that the City Council has failed to secure an alternative location for the service – with its usual base at Galway Racecourse out of action due to the ongoing vaccination programme.

The service, which had previously operated for the three-week period in the run up to Christmas, enabled motorists to park their cars in Ballybrit and take a return trip by bus to town at a cost of just €2 – taking hundreds of cars out of the city centre.

The Mayor, Cllr Colette Connolly, said it was ‘completely ludicrous’ that it would not be in operation this year, in a city that was already gridlocked with car traffic.

“I think that it is a retrograde step not to proceed with the Christmas Park and Ride because we know what will happen – we’ve seen before what happens at the Corrib Centre around Christmas where traffic backs up and people get stuck in the car park,” said the Mayor.

This would result in shoppers from outside the city avoiding coming in, while others would go to other towns and cities to avoid traffic misery.

“They will go to Limerick or to Dublin, which is only two-and-a-half hours away. They will go to Athlone, because they may as well go there, rather than spend two hours sitting in traffic on Lough Atalia,” added the Independent councillor.

In Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath’s report to councillors, it is stated that “it is looking unlikely that Galway City Council will be able to run the Christmas Park and Ride in 2021”.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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