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CITY TRIBUNE

Decision looms on overhaul plan for North Point development

Enda Cunningham

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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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Patients moved from Merlin ‘to bolster private numbers’

Enda Cunningham

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Merlin Park: Patients were moved to private hospital.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he will ask the HSE why patients requiring rehab services were moved from Merlin Park to a private hospital, leaving the state-of-the-art facility idle.

He was asked in the Dáil last week why waiting lists were not being tackled, when capacity at the Galway Clinic and Bon Secours private hospitals is at 15-20%.

Last month, the State entered a deal to ‘take over’ the country’s private hospitals – which has come under criticism in the Dáil with claims of under-utilisation of facilities.

Galway West Deputy Catherine Connolly asked for full details of the agreement with the private hospitals – worth €115m per month nationally – and said nothing about it made sense to her.

“We have major waiting lists and our two private hospitals in Galway City are at 15% to 20% capacity. The hospital itself [UHG] – I must be wrong about this figure but it is what I have been told – was at 30% to 40% capacity as of May 15,” she said.

Department of Health figures for last week show a 39% ‘utilisation’ rate for the Bon Secours and 16% for Galway Clinic.

“The Minister has stood in the Chamber and told us he had to make such arrangements, and certainly I welcomed the narrative at the time that we were taking over the private hospitals to deal with a pandemic. However, we are not utilising them.

“Merlin Park has a state-of-the-art rehab service. It has a gym and all types of therapists but it is now lying idle because, under this deal, the Government transferred the patients from that wonderful facility to a private hospital.

“It took the therapists and patients into the private hospital to allow them to get up to 15% or 20% capacity. It sent the nurses into the public system and left the system empty at Merlin Park, and that is to mention only one service.

“None of the way this has been done makes sense to me. Surely anybody with a bit of sense would know that when the terms and the heads of agreement were signed, it should have allowed for change.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Barriers set to halt groups drinking at quayside

Francis Farragher

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Access to the green quayside areas off Wolfe Tone Bridge will be blocked from today to prevent large groups of people drinking over the Bank Holiday weekend.

And the message from Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley is – enjoy the glorious weekend of weather that’s in store, but diligently maintain the two-metre social distancing rule and don’t consume booze in public areas.

“We are not killjoys and the lovely weather is a boost to everyone’s spirits. People will enjoy the outdoors this weekend but it’s illegal to consume alcohol in public areas and we will be enforcing that bylaw.

“In this kind of weather, there will inevitably be groups of people congregating in outdoor areas – but the message is simple and crystal clear: at all times maintain the two-metre social distancing guideline,” Chief Supt Curley told the Galway City Tribune.

On Tuesday evening last, Gardaí did enforce a dispersal procedure in the Spanish Arch/Claddagh Quay area of the city, after about 200 young people had gathered there, many of them consuming alcohol. They continued to patrol the area yesterday.

A spokesperson for Galway City Council confirmed yesterday that a green area on the Claddagh Quay side of the river – where large groups of young people had gathered this week – would be closed off to the public, probably from today (Friday).
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CITY TRIBUNE

Westwood owners plan tourist accommodation usage

Enda Cunningham

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The Westwood student accommodation complex site this week.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The owners of the new Westwood student accommodation in Newcastle are planning to use part of the complex for tourist and business traveller accommodation “in light of the current health pandemic”.

NTM ROI Seed Capital is currently building the five apartment blocks off the N59 and has sought a determination from An Bord Pleanála on whether it would need to apply for planning permission to allow “partial occupation for tourist and visitor use in the academic year from September 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021”.

Under the existing planning permission, the development “shall only be occupied as student accommodation . . . and shall not be used for any other purpose without a prior grant of planning permission for a change of use”.

However, the company has drawn up a contingency plan in the event that construction may not be completed for the coming academic year.

The plan involves allowing tourists and other ‘non-student’ users to be accommodated in the complex – An Bord Pleanála has been asked to determine whether the change would be a ‘material alteration’ of the planning approval or not.

If it is ruled a material alteration, the Board can then invite submissions from members of the public before it decides on whether to approve or reject it.

Already, local residents – who strongly objected to the entire development during the planning process – have expressed concerns about parking issues which they believe would arise if the Westwood is used for tourist use.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. Please remember that without advertising revenue and people buying and subscribing to our newspapers, this website would not exist. You can read the full article by buying a digital edition of this week’s Galway City Tribune HERE.

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