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Councillors approve plans to revamp Nuns’ Island house


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Councillors approve plans to revamp Nuns’ Island house Councillors approve plans to revamp Nuns’ Island house

From the Galway City Tribune – An historic building to the rear of Nuns’ Island Theatre will be renovated, restored, extended and modernised under new plans rubberstamped by the local authority.

City councillors approved a ‘Part 8’ planning application (one which must be voted on by elected representatives) for the revamp of the Church House behind Nuns’ Island Theatre, fronting onto the canal at Mill Street, used by Galway Youth Theatre.

They supported the transformation works at 23 Nuns’ Island, a pre-Famine Presbyterian Church constructed in 1840, without knowing how much the project would cost overall.

They were also told there was a possibility An Bord Pleanála (ABP) might insist an Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out, after An Taisce raised concerns.

The submission by the environmental watchdog, led to stinging criticism of An Taisce and of ABP by some councillors, including Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins (FG) who labelled the planning appeals board “anti-Galway”.

Councillors unanimously approved the proposals outlined by Brian Barrett, Director of Services, and Peter Staunton, Senior Executive Planner.

The plans include an extension to the existing link structure between the church house and theatre, as well as alterations, remodelling and improvement works to the existing buildings, including installing accessible toilet facilities.

Mr Barrett explained he City Council already had €406,000 of Government funding secured, including €200,000 over two years from the Historic Structures Fund. It had applied for a further €130,000 from the Community Recognition fund, and he was confident they would get this.

Additional money from the Council’s own resources and possibly other grant schemes, was needed to complete the works.

But he declined to say how much the project would cost overall because the local authority would soon be going out to tender, and he did not want to give a competitive edge to contractors.

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Cllr Colette Connolly (Ind) said “this was no way to proceed” with a project involving hundreds of thousands of euros of public funding.

Councillors should know an estimated overall cost of the project, otherwise it was like writing a blank cheque.

“Either we know what the cost of this project is, or we don’t,” she fumed.

She noted that a similar cultural project, the Pálás Cinema development, had turned into a debacle, with cost overruns and delays.

Chief Executive Brendan McGrath agreed with the approach of his team, and insisted it was not prudent to put the overall cost into the public domain.

Meanwhile, a submission by An Taisce fuelled lively debate after the environmental watchdog wrote to ABP, urging it to request a full Environmental Impact Assessment.

It raised concerns about the potential for negative impact on the biodiversity of waterways, canal systems and ‘blue spaces’, as well as claiming ‘significant omissions and mistakes’ in the Appropriate Assessment Screening.

Councillor Michael Crowe (FF) lashed An Taisce for objecting to everything. He said if the Council wants to “build a road, build a theatre, or build anything else, An Taisce is objecting to it”. And he added that “An Bord Pleanála is doing their bidding”.

Cllr Crowe said he accepted the credentials of the planners, whose professional opinion was that there was no need for an EIS.

Mayor Higgins said she agreed with Cllr Crowe. “An Bord Pleanála, any time I hear those words and Galway, I shiver,” she said.

Galway was the “cultural beating heart of Ireland” and “we need to get real”, she said.

Repeating an accusation made previously, Mayor Higgins said An Bord Pleanála, was “definitely anti-Galway”.

Cllr Martina O’Connor said the Council should not be in conflict with ABP and Mr Barrett said the Council wasn’t in conflict with ABP.

Mr McGrath said it was very unlikely ABP will seek a full EIS as requested by An Taisce, but it was a possibility.

Councillors voted unanimously to approve planning permission.

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