A decision is due at the end of the month on an appeal to An Bord Pleanála against a planning condition imposed on overhaul plans for the North Point retail and office development on the Tuam Road – most of which has been vacant for the past decade.
The new owners of the building are planning a change of use of the upper floors of the building to medical clinic use (including a renal dialysis unit) and specialist office space for around 400 workers.
ALC (Glenamaddy) Ltd – which is owned by Galway brothers Michael and Albert Conneally of Glenman Corporation – were granted permission by Galway City Council last year for changes to the basement and ground level parking to include electric vehicle charging points, motorbike parking and bike spaces.
They also received permission to change the first floor from industrial usage to medical clinic use and to change the permitted wholesale retail usage to office space.
On the second floor, the owners propose to construct specialist office space, with solar panels on roof level overhead.
There are also proposals to give the facades of the building an overhaul and new signage.
Despite an objection from Dundalk-based businessman Sean O’Hanlon – who argued that the medical clinic would not be compatible with the ‘CI’ (Enterprise, Light Industry and Commercial) zoning – the Council granted permission.
The Council stated that a precedent had been established at Harrmack House on the Tuam Road where a unit’s usage had been changed from bulky retail to medical use and that a medical clinic would not compete directly with the primacy of the city centre.
According to the application, the proposal will help to address the problem with most of the building lying vacant.
“Unfortunately, this development has suffered from periods of high vacancy. In an effort to eliminate this, the owners have been in consultation with a number of potential clients as to how the space could be maximised or manipulated to cater for differing economic needs.
“It is after this consultation that this application has been arrived at, whereby the building owner is seeking to provide the maximum floor space within the existing building with associated uses that the market is seeking at the moment.
“The proposed development also allows for improved landscaping, electric vehicle charging stations, solar panels at roof level and all-round improvements to the existing building.
“The proposal seeks to remedy legacy vacancy issues that the North Point development has suffered from by maximising the development’s potential, improving the general external areas and diversifying the unit uses. This would be positive for the area,” the application reads.
The Council approved the application, but said that prior to the occupation of the units, the precise details of the proposed occupants must first be agreed on by the local authority.
A Mobility Management Plan – for staff and visitors to the building – must also be drawn up prior to occupation and a financial contribution of just over €170,000 must be made to the Council towards the cost of providing public services in the immediate area.
The City Council had raised concerns about the building’s non-compliance with fire and building regulations and ordered a full structural survey.
Structural engineers were appointed to assess the building and have detailed remedial works for structural deficiencies which were required. Further calculations on the foundations will be carried out now that planning permission has been granted.
Assurances have also been provided to the Chief Fire Officer that any issue with non-compliance with fire regulations will be addressed now that planning permission has been granted.
A stipulation was also attached that revised drawings be submitted showing the omission of 27 parking spaces at the rear (Ballybane) entrance to the site.
That condition was subsequently appealed by the new owners who said the Council’s rationale was flawed and that it would have a detrimental impact on the function of the property.
“Due to the fact that a number of the units are accessed from the rear and the nature of the proposed uses of the units, it is seen as imperative that some surface parking is provided in this area.
“Not only will this support the effective use of the units, but were these spaces to be omitted from them design, it is seen as inevitable that ad hoc roadside parking will occur along the rear estate road and impact on the effective flow of traffic in the area,” the appeal reads.
The appellants added that the parking spaces would be critical to the function of the dialysis unit and their omission would cause unnecessary exertion for patients.
A decision on the appeal is expected by March 31.
The entire North Point complex was developed in 2008 by Tom Considine and Paddy Sweeney at an estimated cost of around €30 million and was constructed by Glenman Corporation.
The Conneally brothers are understood to have purchased most of the building in early 2019 for €2.25 million. Some of the units are separately owned.
Redundancies are not on the cards for Galway City Council workers
Redundancies at Galway City Council as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been ruled out by Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
The local authority has imposed a temporary ban on recruitment, but is not planning to lay off any of its 520-strong workforce.
Mr McGrath said that down the road, if this crisis continues for a prolonged period, replacing staff who retire may not be possible. But for now, Council workers are ‘flat out’ maintaining essential services across a range of departments.
“No, we’re not planning that (lay offs). We will endeavour to keep our workforce fully employed. We’ve built up our team since the recession, a lot of our team and the additional bodies we’ve taken on are related to specific projects, for which there was various forms of grant aid available so I think we’d be confident that we will try to be able to retain the entire staff resource,” he said.
Nearly 150 members of staff have been set up to work from home, thanks to the ICT Department at City Hall.
Outdoor staff, and other office staff who must be at City Hall, are observing social distancing guidelines. Offices that used to be packed with people now have one or two workers, spaced in accordance with the guidelines.
As with the private sector, there have been changes to the ‘normal’ working week for Council staff, and some have been redeployed to other areas.
The Council has a statutory obligation to maintain essential services.
“Essential services are anything to do with homelessness; urgent housing repairs like plumbing and electrical; work on houses that were nearly complete to bring back into beneficial use and to bring back into use for self-isolation; public lighting is essential; burst water mains; maintaining traffic lights for road safety; and anything to do with water supply and waste water and treating effluent,” said Mr McGrath.
Street cleaning is classed as ‘necessary but not absolutely essential’, and is a slightly lower category than ‘essential services’.
The rota for street cleaning has been cut back to a number of times a week rather than every day, and this reflects the quieter streets due to people staying at home.
The city’s burial grounds are closed, but graves still need to be opened, and the Planning Department continues to operate.
Cancer patients will have surgeries in private hospitals
Cancer specialists in Galway are reviewing their patient lists identifying cases that need to be prioritised for urgent surgery and biopsies.
Saolta University Health Care Group, which includes UHG and Merlin Park, has moved to reassure the public that ‘time-sensitive’ cancer cases will get the treatment they need, despite the Covid-19 crisis.
Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director with the Saolta Group, and consultant cardiologist at UHG, said talks have taken place with Galway Clinic and Bon Secours with a view to cancer surgeries of public patients proceeding at the private hospitals.
“There are many types of cancer, some of which are very time-dependant in that they need intervention very quickly to prevent any bad outcome, whereas others, the immediacy of the time isn’t necessarily going to impact on the long-term outcome.
“I can assure you, that all cases are being reviewed by consultants. Those who need treatment that is time-sensitive, where any delay could impact on outcome, will get treatment.
“Each consultant is reviewing their list and ensuring that any urgent surgery, up until now was accommodated in UHG, but we will be looking to do surgery within Galway Clinic and Bon Secours where we will have capacity and where we can start more or less immediately,” he said.
Meanwhile, cancer patients residing in a residential facility close to UHG while receiving treatment have been relocated to the Harbour Hotel to make way for those battling the Covid-19 pandemic instead.
Cancer Care West offered their 33-bedroom Inis Aoibhinn facility on hospital grounds to University Hospital Galway, which is gearing up capacity to deal with the predicted influx of patients over the coming weeks.
The Harbour Hotel in turn offered its premises free of charge to the charity to accommodate patients from across the region during their treatment.
Richard Flaherty, CEO of Cancer Care West, said staff and 28 residents had relocated to the Harbour Hotel on Monday after the hospital accepted the offer.
It will be used to accommodate staff or patients who need to be isolated close to a medical setting.
“We will continue to provide nursing care and support services onsite at the hotel to our patients.
“We also have arranged transport for the patients to and from treatment as they cannot walk as easily as before to the hospital,” he explained.
“It’s quite a logistical challenge for us, but we knew strategically how important Inis Aoibhinn would be.
“We have to pay for catering and transport but we are particularly grateful to John Lally and his team at the Harbour Hotel for their exceptional generosity for facilitating us at this difficult time.
“As an organisation we are committed to assisting in any way we can the HSE in the fight against Covid-19.”
City Council’s conference call ‘eavesdropper’
Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column by Dara Bradley
Galway City Council, like the rest of us, is adapting to the new reality of life under Covid-19 restrictions.
There haven’t been any face-to-face City Council meetings, be they full meetings or committee meetings, since the crisis really hit.
But that doesn’t mean elected members and management are twiddling their thumbs. Far from it – they’re busier than ever, just a different sort of busy.
Last Wednesday evening, city councillors held a conference call with Chief Executive Brendan McGrath.
Members of his management team were also involved in the meeting, which was conducted using technology that allows people to ‘attend’ a meeting online from the comfort of their own homes.
Each member is invited to the virtual meeting through a link sent to their email account. They click into this and then they are ‘in’ the meeting and can speak and see the others, also attending remotely.
A reliable deep-throat who participated in Wednesday’s chat informs us that the meeting had to be stopped – at the behest of McGrath – and restarted, over fears someone was eavesdropping.
The suspicion is that the link to join the meeting was sent to someone it shouldn’t have been, and this person attempted to listen in.
“Brendan halted the meeting and we had to hang up and start again because a mystery man was listening-in on the teleconference. It was hacked but Brendan has the number and can find out who it was,” said one source.
If the standard of debate at the tele-conference was anything like some of the drivel you can get at some ordinary Council meetings, then the conference-blocked hacker didn’t miss much!
For more Bradley Bytes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune