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€137m budget to run county voted through

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A budget of nearly €137 million has been adopted for Galway County Council for next year, with an eleventh-hour extra allocation from the Department of Environment to partially offset a big shortfall from a decreased rates valuation for utilities divided up by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors.

The interim Chief Executive Kevin Kelly reminded councillors there was no provision for contingencies in the 2016 budget which he described as challenging. There was €104m earmarked for gross expenditure and €32m spending for capital projects.

Commercial rates would remain unchanged for a seventh year at €66.59, with the exception of Ballinasloe which had its rate increased by €3 to €55. Almost half the businesses in Ballinasloe will see rates jump by €105 a year, with a plan to bring rates in line with other county towns by 2024.

A provision of €100,000 has been set aside to offset the cost of providing free parking for two hours across county towns, with municipal district areas to decide whether to introduce the measure in the New Year in exchange for a reduction in their roads budget.

Free all-day parking in the lead-up to Christmas in county towns has been agreed.

A gap of €750,000 emerged in the books when the Valuation Office revealed that it had set rates valuations for the utility companies such as the ESB and Eircom at a lower rate than previously for the next five years.

Following a meeting between Junior Minister at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey with a delegation of councillors, further funding of €573,000 will be handed to Galway Council Council for 2016, Cllr Jimmy McClearn (FG) told the meeting.

“What was a difficult situation is a very manageable situation now,” he remarked. “It’s important we’re not living in a negative world. It’s a positive world. It’s not all bad lads – cheer up. You don’t see any fruit in the tree.”

A pact between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil divided this amount up, including an allocation of €300,000 to roads maintenance, €50,000 for disabled person grants, €40,000 each for public lighting and economic development, €35,000 for community grants and €30,000 for street cleaning.

No matter which way you looked at it, the council’s coffers were still down on 2015 by €113,000, fumed Cllr Noel Thomas, who said he did not want to be associated with any remarks welcoming the additional grant.

The Fianna Fáil Councillor urged the council to spend money on cleaning out gullies which would save millions of taxpayers’ money on repairing roads, much of it unnecessarily if the gullies were cleared regularly.

Cllr James Charity (Ind) said with that kind of budget hole, Cllr McClearn was “looking a lot more link Grinch than Father Christmas”.

Sinn Féin’s Tom Healy said the local authority should seek to retrofit public lighting with LED lights, which would give an annual saving of €900,000 immediately.

Director of Services for Roads and Transportation Liam Gavin said a massive capital investment would be required to change the 13,000 lights across the county under the charge of the council. But he said the savings would be significant.

Cllr Shaune Cunniffe (Ind) lambasted the council for its lack of provision for bad debts for commercial rates. Cumulative uncollected debts were going to “paralyse” Galway County Council as some of these businesses were long gone and there was no hope of ever collecting them.

Mr Kelly said last year’s arrears were €10m with a bad debt provision in the books of €4m.

“The opinion of the auditor is it should be a bit higher but he’s broadly satisfied with the bad debt provision. Today, by increasing that provision, you have to decrease expenditure somewhere else,” he explained.

Cllr Tim Broderick (Ind) said councillors were like ostriches in the sand, refusing to deal with the issue of uncollected rates and if the council were a business it would cease to exist with that level of debt.

The extra €577,000 in funding, as proposed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, was passed, with seven voting against it, including the Sinn Féin councillors, Independents Shaun Cunniffe, Tom Healy, Jim Cuddy and James Charity.

The overall budget was adopted with 24 of the 39 councillors voting in favour of it.

CITY TRIBUNE

Community volunteers out in force for planathons on banks of Lough Atalia

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Planters…the group of community volunteers after their Lough Atalia Plantathon.

Student volunteers and community activists were out in force throughout the month of December to push back against the climate crisis – taking part in a series of ‘plantathons’ on the banks of Lough Atalia.

Planting bulbs and trees, the programme was led by Galway Community College which owns the lands involved – and aims to rewild another portion of the city, following in the footsteps of Terryland Forest Park.

While a much smaller area by size, those behind the initiative say it shows what’s possible when the community comes together.

Supported by the National Park City initiative, the creation of this woods and wildflower meadow on what were, until now pasture lands, also had the backing of several other voluntary organisation in the city as well as Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Dominican College Taylor’s Hill, Galway Education Centre and Galway Science and Technology Festival.

With the bulbs provided by the Newcastle-based multinational Aerogen, Convenor of the Galway National Park City Brendan Smith said the project epitomised how the initiative brings interested parties together to do good.

He said efforts such as those on Lough Atalia showed the determination of young people and locals to continue the great work of those who carried out the very first plantathon in Terryland almost 22 years ago.

Those efforts were required now more than ever as the impact of the climate emergency was being acutely felt.

“The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs.

“Storm Barra was the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. But one key way to tackle the climate emergency is to plant trees – and lots of them. The Irish Government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually.

“This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity loss,” says Brendan.

“One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970.

“A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, fungi and fauna.

“Planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.”

 

 

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CITY TRIBUNE

City’s newest Salmon Weir crossing will be in place before end of year

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An artist's impression of the new Salmon Weir crossing

Galway city’s newest pedestrian bridge – costing €5m – is expected to be installed before December of this year.

The new cycle and pedestrian bridge over the Lower River Corrib will be located 25 metres downstream of the existing Salmon Weir Bridge.

An Bórd Pleanála granted planning permission for the bridge last August, and work is expected to begin on the project in the coming months.

Galway City Council, in conjunction with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), North Western Regional Assembly and the National Transport Authority, has sought tenders from contractors to carry out the work.

The City Council is co-funding the project under ERDF with matched funding from the NTA.

The project must be completed by November 30, 2022, to comply with EU funding drawdown.

In the planning application, the City Council said 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists who currently use the Salmon Weir Bridge would use the new bridge once it’s opened.

The bridge will link Gaol Road to Newtownsmith. The scheme includes three span pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Lower River Corrib (main channel), Mill Race (Persse’s Distillery River) and Waterside Canal (Friar’s River).

The vision is that it would facilitate the BusConnects project, which will use the existing bridge, and also open up opportunities for a civic plaza at the Council owned car park at Galway Cathedral.

According to the tender documents, the “bridge substructure will be reinforced concrete construction, founded on sleeved reinforced concrete bored cast in place piles at the abutments and spread footings founded on and anchored to rock at the piers”.

Traffic management will need to be put in place during works and due to the environmentally sensitive site location “no temporary or permanent works will be permitted to be undertaken from the watercourses”.

Contractors have until January 21 to respond to the competition.

 

 

 

 

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CITY TRIBUNE

CPO could trigger major development of housing

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Aerial view of Bothar an Chóiste - Pic. Google Maps.

Just one submission has been received in relation to a Compulsory Purchase Order on a section of a hugely busy rat run between the Tuam and Headford Roads that could open up a large tranche of land for development if approved.

Galway City Council has applied to An Bord Pleanála to compulsorily purchase over 500 metres of land along Bother an Chóiste in Castlegar adjacent to land it already owns where a previous application to build 48 homes failed due to the width of the road around 2007.

That land is on the same side of the road as the Cluain Riocaird estate. There is another privately-owned land bank of over six hectares on the other side of Bothar an Chóiste also zoned residential that could accommodate up on 400 units which would also benefit from the road widening.

No application has been lodged for that development, but any approval would be dependent on an upgrade of the road which is widely used by motorists to avoid tailbacks at the two busiest traffic junctions in the city.

A spokesman for the Council told the Galway City Tribune that the purpose of the CPO is not to upgrade the through road between the Headford Road and the Tuam Road but to facilitate access to a parcel of its own land for housing development.

“The land take is not designed to be a transport measure. Bothar an Chóiste is not intended to serve as anything other than an access and egress point for local residents. The extent that we’re upgrading is the extent of residentially zoned land,” he stated.

One valid submission was received by the end of December deadline and has been forwarded by the board to the Council for consideration.

If the CPO is approved by an Bord Pleanála, the Council would prepare a design for housing and the road widening and seek funding from the Department of Housing. It would also be obliged to seek approval from Galway City Councillors for a part 8 development.

An application to build 74 homes a short distance away on the school Road was turned down by An Bord Pleanála after being rejected by the Council which had asked the developer, Altitude Distribution, to increase the housing density. The appeals board found the development would constitute a traffic hazard due to the width of the road and shortcomings with the layout because of site constraints.

A Bothar an Chóiste resident told the Galway City Tribune there were no details of what measures would be implemented to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on what was already a highly-trafficked road.

“From a road safety stand point, marginally widening the road will only add to the already endemic ‘rat run’ culture as cars will be have a straighter road on which they can travel faster, with more danger for pedestrians, cyclists, families with buggies and small children getting to and from housing units to local shops, the Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, schools and other amenities,” she predicted.

“Making this road easier for cars to travel by widening means that even bigger, heavier vehicles that currently avoid it as it is narrow and bendy will make it even more detrimental to vulnerable road users.

“Housing units are welcome, but these builds should have the essential services and safe interconnected infrastructure for most vulnerable road users at the heart of the road widening proposals. It’s counter-productive to propose road widening without thoughtful footpaths and cyclepaths that will further lock local residents into car culture.”

The Council spokesperson said the design would facilitate pedestrian movements and public lighting to encourage active travel.

An Bord Pleanála is scheduled to hand down its decision by May.

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