An expert group on local government reform has backed controversial proposals to merge Galway City and County Councils into one entity.
The recommendation for amalgamation of the local authorities “no later than 2021” requires ministerial and Oireachtas backing.
If approved, it would mean a combined merged new ‘Greater Galway Authority’ membership of 57 Councillors (18 city councillors and 39 county councillors).
Critics of the proposed merger claim Galway City would be ‘left behind’, as city representatives would be outnumbered by public representatives from rural towns and villages.
Junior Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan said he would bring the proposals to government in the coming days.
The Expert Advisory Group on Local Government Arrangements in Galway effectively endorses a 2015 report by a Galway Local Government Committee, which unanimously recommended the establishment of a new unified Galway authority rather than boundary alteration or retention of the status quo.
It concluded that a merger would maximise the potential of the region to maintain, secure, and grow a sustainable economic base into the future, combining the respective strengths of the two existing authorities in terms of resources, staff, and expertise.
The six-person expert group included City Council CE, Brendan McGrath and County Council Chief Executive, Kevin Kelly.
The group has said nothing should happen to the Councils this side of the 2019 local elections, but the amalgamation should happen no later than 2021. However, it said a ministerial decision should be taken on the recommendations and “be legislated for as a matter of urgency, to provide certainty.”
The members elected in 2019 to each local authority should combine to form the membership of the unified Galway City and County Council on the date of amalgamation, with the first elections to the unified authority to be held in 2024.
The report with Minister Phelan said the recommended amalgamation must be preceded by addressing “noted deficiencies in both human and financial resources” highlighted by the group.
Minister Phelan said: “I will be bringing proposals to Government shortly arising from the report and dealing also with other aspects of local government structures and governance, including details of the legislation to provide for the alteration of the boundary between Cork City and County”.
Last week, before the merger was announced, City Councillors reiterated their concerns that the city would be swallowed up by the diverse needs of a much larger county, which was struggling financially.
Labour’s Niall McNelis said any merger would affect the rates base for the city, which was unique in Ireland due to the numbers of daily commuters and the presence of two large third level institutions coupled with the sheer size of the county.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) said councillors in Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary were reporting back that their amalgamations had not worked. He noted that Galway County Council did not fund sports pitches whereas the city had a proud history of providing top sporting facilities.
Fine Gael’s Frank Fahy said any proposal to support the arts in the city would be outvoted in favour of funding for roads in Portumna or Ballinasloe.
A motion by City Mayor Pearce Flannery was passed unanimously to invite Minister Phelan to meet with city councillors before a final decision was handed down.
Zoning for houses ‘could impact Galway City Ring Road plan’
Councillors have voted to rezone farming land in Rahoon to allow for houses to be developed, against the advice of planners who warned it could impact on the planned Galway City Ring Road.
The Office of Planning Regulator and Chief Executive of Galway City Council both advised elected members not to change the zoning use from agricultural to residential on the 2.842-hectare (7-acre) site. But it was passed with 14 in favour, three against and one absent.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind), who proposed the motion, said there was a need for more land to be zoned residential to facilitate the growth in population of 40,000 over the next 18 years. Cllr Noel Larkin seconded his proposal.
Brendan McGrath, the Chief Executive, said there was “no requirement to rezone additional land for residential purposes to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029”.
He said there was sufficient zoned land available to enable development.
The OPR said voting to change the zoning represented a piecemeal approach to planning and was inconsistent with national and regional policy.
“It is also considered that the proposed rezoning could prejudice the strategic future optimal use of these lands in the longer term. With regard to impact on the objective for the N6 Galway City Ring Road Scheme (GCRR), all development has to take cognisance of the objective for the N6 GCRR.
“It is also noted that the draft plan includes that the objective for the N6 GCRR has priority over all land use zoning objectives which is considered to provide sufficient protection to safeguard the scheme objective,” Mr McGrath said.
The National Transport Authority said this rezoning should not be allowed as it is likely to lead to development that was “wholly car-dependent and contrary to national and regional objectives”.
Cash-strapped students targeted by drug dealers, policing meeting hears
Cash-strapped students in Galway are being targeted by drug lords to act as money mules, a city councillor has warned.
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) made the remarks at a public meeting of the City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) and said that the €667,000 worth of drugs seized by city gardaí in the first 10 months of the year “is only the tip of the iceberg”.
The meeting at the Connacht Hotel heard that some €45 million passed through the accounts of so-called money mules nationwide this year alone.
Cllr Cheevers said drug dealers were targeting young people in particular.
“They’re in the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket and college students are being targeted,” said Cllr Cheevers.
It was revealed that cocaine was by far the most common drug seized in Galway, making up over half of all the drugs detected – cocaine valued at €348,000 was seized in the 10 months to the end of October.
This was closely followed by cannabis, of which €260,000 worth was taken off the streets by gardaí, while the remainder of the total was made up by heroin, ecstasy and other illegal drugs.
Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche said the drugs problem was “unquantifiable” and promised that city gardaí were “attacking money laundering in a targeted and systematic way”.
Drugs were not only an urban problem but were a huge issue in county towns as well, he said, and all gardaí, from uniformed to armed response, were focused on the issue.
“Roads policing are taking a targeted role in tackling it as well,” said Chief Supt Roche.
“A new strategy is starting tomorrow,” he said at the meeting..
“Getting involved in being a money mule is a personal choice. We can warn and caution people against it.
“We can say so much but people continue to do things that are illegal,” he added.
‘Furore’ over rezoning plan for access to B&B on Headford Road in Galway
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.
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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.