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CITY TRIBUNE

Deep concerns in arts community over unanswered Galway 2020 questions

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Attending a special Galway City Council meeting when the CEO and Chair of Galway 2020, Hannah Kiely and Aideen McGinley, were updating councillors on how the project was progressing, was a thoroughly depressing experience.

Apparently, the purpose of the meeting was to allow councillors to ask questions and seek answers to issues around 2020, following the resignation of its Creative Director and the appointment – then non-appointment – of a Business Engagement Director.

There were – and there still are – other questions around sponsorship, communications and the overall financial status of this company charged with delivering Galway as European Capital of Culture in 2020.

These are serious questions, ones that are causing deep concern among the arts community of Galway – hard-working people who have thrown their energy behind this project and who have been faced with problems ranging from funding to issues around ownership of intellectual copyright in their dealings with 2020.

As someone who has reported on the arts in Galway for three decades, I know the contribution the people on the frontline have made to this city. Before Galway won this designation of European Capital of Culture, these people had made it world-renowned as a creative and wonderful place in which to live. I’d go so far as to say; Galway City had a comparatively easy ride during the economic downturn compared to other cities because of its brilliant arts community.

They are the people who stand to gain – or to lose – most, depending on how 2020 pans out. And, in a project such as this, our primary duty should be to them. But as councillor after councillor expressed their outrage on Tuesday night at what was going on around 2020, most of them – bar a few resolute challengers – chose to target this outrage at ‘the media which had an agenda’ and ‘the whisperers’ who were ‘undermining’ Galway 2020. There were questions around finance and communication issues, but from where I sat, this looked more like a damage-limitation exercise than a serious attempt to explore the concerns that exist around the progress towards 2020.

Galway, according to one councillor, was simply the best and let not the likes of Limerick be thinking they were in our league. What arrogance. Yes, Galway won the bid, defeating Limerick and the ‘Three Sisters’. And that was great. But now we have to deliver on it – leaving room for neither complacency nor arrogance.

For starters, let me tell those councillors who were taking potshots about whisperers, nobody in the arts community is whispering – they are talking openly about their livelihoods, and those I have spoken to were not reassured after this week’s meeting.

Many questions still remain and while City Chief Executive Brendan McGrath gave a rousing speech at the end, in which he pointed out that 2020 was about the artists, it contained very few cold, hard facts about sponsorship raised to date or about tangible artistic progress.

He did say that ‘new exciting’ appointments would be made towards the end of the month. These would be producers. Producers are a vital component of 2020. But what about a Creative Director? This is the person charged with offering artistic direction to the entire project – and according to the page 92 of the Bid Book which won us the Capital of Culture designation, that person would have responsibility for delivering the artistic programme, 70 per cent of which was outlined in the book. That left 30 per cent of the programming to the Creative Director. The previous incumbent, Chris Baldwin, has resigned. But 2020 still needs creative direction – in artistic organisations, producers are normally appointed to implement the Creative Director’s vision, not to provide it themselves. Different roles, therefore different skills required.

Mr McGrath made no mention of a Creative Director in his rousing speech. It’s a worry.

Secondly, let me turn to those councillors who were having a dig at the media on Tuesday night.

The media have a duty to ask questions, particularly when all the money that has been allocated to 2020 so far has come from public coffers – ie, from us, the taxpayers, including this town’s artistic community. So, it’s appropriate that the media will continue to ask questions. And we won’t apologise for it.

We all want Galway 2020 to succeed, none moreso than the artistic community.

But burying our heads in the sand and pretending that issues don’t exist won’t make things right. One of the braver councillors, Ollie Crowe, pointed out that as of now, 2020 is €10 million behind budget – in an overall budget of some €45.7 million. That’s not insignificant. It’s just one of the many issues.

We need to wake up to the reality and the challenges we face. Starting with our city councillors.

■ Judy Murphy is Arts Editor of the Galway City Tribune and has been reporting on the arts in the West of Ireland for more than three decades.

CITY TRIBUNE

‘Furore’ over rezoning plan for access to B&B on Headford Road in Galway

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From the Galway City Tribune – Councillors have voted to rezone a small section of Terryland Forest Park from recreational and amenity use to residential.

A majority of elected members also approved the insertion of a specific objective into the new Galway City Development Plan 2023-29 that would allow an entrance to the site through Sandyvale Lawn.

This was to facilitate safe access to a home and B&B business off Headford Road, which had become dangerous due to the recent changeover of Kirwan roundabout to a traffic lights junction.

Residents of Sandyvale Lawn, a 100+ housing estate off Headford Road, had objected to the proposals, and so too had Tuatha Terryland Forest Park, an alliance of volunteers and organisations.

The Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) and Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, as well as his planning department and recreational and amenity department, had all objected to the changes.

The rezoning, and insertion of a specific objective to facilitate an entrance to the estate, was contained in the same material alteration that came before councillors, but they were obliged to vote on them separately.

Several councillors argued that a new entrance to Sandyvale Lawn was necessary to facilitate safe access to a B&B on Headford Road.


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


Cllr Mike Crowe (FF) said the family who owned this business and home had been treated poorly by the City Council during the reconfiguration of the Kirwan roundabout to a signalised junction.

Referencing the large opposition to the proposal, he said the “furore over this is astounding” and argued the impact on green space and the Sandyvale Lawn estate would be minimal.

Cllr Crowe said the proposal was about creating a safe exit and entrance.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said there had been a number of near misses of cars coming in and out of the B&B, which were captured on video.

He said the current system, whereby an amber traffic light allows access to the B&B was “haphazard and dangerous”. He feared there would be a fatality if a new entrance was not approved.

“I don’t like to rezone RA [Recreational & Amenity] land but in this situation we don’t have a choice. We have to remedy a dangerous situation,” Cllr Fahy said.

Cllr Colette Connolly (Ind) said RA land was “absolutely sacrosanct” and she would not vote to rezone.

She asked what the legal position was regarding a rezoning of green space, which residents claimed had been paid for through a green levy applied 40 years ago when the estate was built.

Cllr Owen Hanley (Soc Dem) said he had voted initially to include the material alteration to support the B&B owners, as the removal of the roundabout had made access more dangerous for them.

But he said he would now support the residents of Sandyvale Lawn who had opposed the change.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said the family had lived there for 50 years and now it was more dangerous accessing their home through no fault of their own.

He said it was not safe that they have to enter and exit their home on an amber flashing light.

In a submission, residents of Sandyvale Lawn said the new entrance would negatively impact their estate, by increasing traffic, noise and an addition risk to children playing. They said it could be turned into another rat run like Ballinfoile and Tirellan. They also argued against the loss of green space.

Submissions also objected to the loss of the green space which was part of Terryland Forest Park, dubbed the ‘lungs of the city’.

Mr McGrath asked councillors not to rezone the land and not to insert the specific objective for a new entrance.

Both changes, however, were approved. The RA to R rezoning passed by a 12-5 vote and the specific objective for a new entrance passed by 11-5.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Money-back vending machines set to be rolled out in Galway

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From the Galway City Tribune – Galway’s first ‘reverse vending machines’ – which reward the public for recycling plastic bottles and aluminium cans – are set to open in Doughiska.

German supermarket giant Lidl has sought planning permission to roll out the money-back machines under a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) which was first introduced in a Dun Laoghaire branch last year.

The company wants to make changes to the Doughiska store – including the demolition of the existing entrance pod and removal of the shopping trolley bay – to make way for a DRS room with five vending machines.

The machines will accept plastic drinks bottles and cans – for each one deposited, custoemrs will receive a 10c voucher for spending in Lidl, up to a maximum voucher limit of €2.

According to the retailer, each machine can collect and process up to 17,000 units each week – this will equate to 1,500 tonnes per year when the system is rolled out at all 170 stores in Ireland.

City Council planners are due to make a decision on the planning application – which also includes the construction of a new standalone sheltered bay for shopping trolleys and the relocation of a number of ‘blue badge’ parking spaces – shortly before Christmas.


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscriotion costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


 

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CITY TRIBUNE

Councillors ignore zoning advice of City Hall, Planning Regulator and local campaigners

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From the Galway City Tribune – Two agricultural sites in Roscam have been rezoned by city councillors to allow for housing to be built – despite strong objections from planners.

Councillors voted to rezone from agriculture (G) to residential (R2) a 1.67-hectare site close to the coastline in Roscam.

Cllr Noel Larkin (Ind) proposed the material alteration, and it was seconded by Imelda Byrne (FF) and supported on a vote of 13 for, three against, one abstention and one absentee.

Save Roscam Peninsula, a lobby group of local residents, had campaigned against the rezoning.

The Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) said it was contrary to national and regional planning policy, and the Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, and the Planning Department team strongly advised elected members not to rezone.


This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


Mr McGrath said that the G zoning are predominantly agriculture lands “but also have an important natural environment and landscape value, which distinguishes them from less visually sensitive and amenity rich agricultural lands”.

Cllr Larkin said that the reason he was proposing the motion was to allow the landowner to build a family home. He insisted it was for immediate family.

Senior Executive Planner Caroline Phelan said moving from agriculture to residential zoning “is not to facilitate a family home”.

Cllrs Frank Fahy (FG) and Declan McDonnell (Ind), who both supported the material alteration, said the landowner had to move to Craughwell due to planning issues at the site.

Cllr Fahy said the land was zoned agriculture, but the owner was not permitted to farm on the site.

“If you can’t carry out agriculture on an agricultural site then there is something seriously wrong with our planning system,” he said.

Ms Coleman said that site was close to a monastic site, Roscam tower and church, which were protected structures of archaeological interest.

The site is also at a protected panoramic view, she said, and there were concerns the rezoning would conflict with that.

Mr McGrath said rezoning the land would be contrary to national and regional policy.

“This site is located in an area that is at a remove from existing water and wastewater services and lacks proximity to the existing public transport and pedestrian networks. To allow this rezoning would represent and uncoordinated piecemeal approach to zoning. Expanding residential use in this area is unsustainable and will create additional demands for services and essential infrastructure,” he said.

The current zoning helps climate action by “supporting carbon sequestration and extensive biodiversity” and it forms a “buffer between the built environment and the coastline”, he said.

Meanwhile, another site in Roscam was also rezoned from G agriculture to R2 Residential against the advice of planners.

Some 14 councillors voted to rezone the land and insert a specific objective that it is for one house reserved for the immediate family of the landowner.

The 0.877-hectare of land

Senior Planner Helen Coleman said there was no requirement for additional residential lands.

Ms Phelan said the rezoning would not be democratic, sets a precedent and would undermine sustainability.

Mr McGrath urged them to retain the existing zoning otherwise it could “erode the character of the area” and conflict with planning policy.

(Main map shows the 1.67-hectare site close to the coastline in Roscam, smaller map is of the 0.877ha land)

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