The €7.2 million price tag for a new pedestrian and cycling bridge planned adjacent to the Salmon Weir Bridge has unsettled elected members of Galway City Council.
At a meeting last week, several city councillors questioned the logic of spending that figure on a new footbridge bridge.
A number of councillors suggested that it would be a ‘waste of money’, because the existing Salmon Weir Bridge would still be used by pedestrians. They suggested that the existing bridge should be turned into a pedestrian bridge, and the new bridge should be vehicular.
Robert Ryan, engineer with Arup Consultants, gave a presentation outlining the ‘emerging preferred option’ for a new crossing adjacent to the existing bridge.
Arup, he said, had a “huge sense of responsibility” to deliver a bridge “of the highest quality”. It was a “hugely iconic site” and they are proposing an “iconic” bridge that would stand the test of time and “outlive all of us”, he said.
Arup, which has offices in Ballybrit, was involved in the Mary Elmes Bridge in Cork and the pedestrian Living Bridge in University of Limerick. Seán Harrington Architects, which designed the Rosie Hackett Bridge in Dublin, are involved with Arup on the proposed new Galway bridge.
Mr Harrington told councillors that the proposed bridge – for pedestrians and cyclists – was “totally unique to the location, and totally unique to Galway”.
The location is “hugely significant” for migrating salmon, hence its name. It was not just an A to B crossing either – the new bridge would cross “three water courses”, something Mr Harrington had “never seen before”.
It will be south of the existing bridge, and links Cathedral Square with Newtownsmyth. Separate plans to possibly pedestrianise Newtownsmyth are not linked with this project, officials confirmed. Mr Harrington said if it was “too close to the existing bridge, you’d clog it up”, and wouldn’t get a proper view of the new bridge.
Mr Ryan said the bridge could be constructed off-site, which would take 12 months, and could be assembled on location “over one weekend”. It was a highly sensitive area, and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which complicated matters.
Officials agreed, under questioning from elected members, that the existing bridge would still have pedestrian access after the new bridge is built – the ‘northern’ footpath would have to be retained because that side of the bridge was a ‘protected view’, and couldn’t be seen from the new bridge because the old one would be blocking it.
Ollie Crowe, who spoke on behalf of the five Fianna Fáil councillors, said the existing bridge was 200 years old, and was in need of repair. He suggested it was preferable to build a new vehicular bridge, and convert the existing bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.
Cllr Pauline O’Reilly (Greens) said her main issue was the proposal was presented in isolation, without a Local Area Plan, or an overall vision for pedestrians and cycling city-wide. “How does it fit-in with the overall city,” she asked.
Cllr Colette Connolly said €7.2m was “an enormous amount of money” and Cllr Donal Lyons asked “Is this value for money?”.
Mr Ryan said the Mary Ellis Bridge in Cork cost €5m but the proposed Galway bridge was 30% larger, and in an SAC which made it more complicated and so more expensive.
Mayor Mike Cubbard (Ind) said the pedestrianisation of Newtownsmyth could cause chaos and the existing bridge crossing was dangerous. Cllr Declan McDonnell doubted whether pedestrians and cyclists coming from NUIG direction would actually use the new bridge if the existing bridge still had a footpath on it.
Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) wondered whether a fig tree, growing on the side of the existing bridge was “protected”, and would that cause hiccups in the planning process. Apparently, he said, the fig tree was “one of the eighth wonders of the world – it shouldn’t be there, but it is,” he said.
Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked whether they had investigated adding on a pedestrian leg to the existing bridge, like they have done at O’Brien’s Bridge. If that could be done for half the cost, Cllr Hoare said he would be in favour of it, no matter whether it looked ‘iconic’ or not.
Uinsinn Finn, Senior Executive Engineer with Galway City Council, said they did look at the O’Brien’s Bridge type option, but felt that a standalone new bridge would be preferable and more likely to get approval from An Bórd Pleanala, because the existing bridge was a protected structure. The new bridge proposal was being brought forward because it was part of the Galway Transport Strategy, which councillors had approved, he said.
The existing bridge has a daily footfall of 11,000, councillors heard. The new bridge would be a shared rather than segregated space for cyclists and pedestrians, with seating and viewing points at its midspan, which would be eight metres in total in the centre. At the entrance to each bridge would be a glass circle to view the water running underneath.
A workshop for councillors will take place on Friday, November 29. Galway cycling groups have also been invited to meet with engineers about the plans.
Site investigation works will commence in January of next year and they hope to lodge a planning application to An Bórd Pleanála before the middle of 2020.
Detail design and tender documentation will be complete by the end of next year, when they hope to commence construction, subject to there being no delays or objections.
Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site
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.
NUIG student accommodation firm records loss
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.
Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan
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.