The long-awaited unveiling of the cultural programme for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture has hit a glitch – the event licence application was invalidated, because it was submitted too late.
Despite a delay in lodging an event licence application with City Hall, Galway 2020 has insisted the launch event in Eyre Square on September 18 will proceed as planned . . . but with a far reduced capacity.
Galway City Council and Galway 2020 have both confirmed that the event will go ahead under an ‘event permit’ rather than an ‘event licence’, as it was advertised too late.
The practical implication of this application mistake is that 3,000 fewer people can attend the launch. Under an event permit, up to 5,000 people are allowed to attend; the capacity crowd for an event with a licence is 8,000.
The mistake also means that the public, and elected members, are deprived of having their say on the application – an event licence can be inspected by the public, who can make formal observations and submissions, and is voted on by city councillors.
On August 22, Galway 2020 published a public notice announcing its intention to apply for an event licence to launch its programme in Eyre Square.
The advertisement said “it is anticipated that an audience of up to 8,000 people will attend this event”. It invited the public to inspect the proposal, and make submissions or observations about the plan.
The Galway City Tribune visited the Planning Department at College Road to inspect the application file but was told it had been “invalidated” because it was lodged too late.
The dates involved are key; the licence application would require approval of elected members, who do not convene again until Monday, September 9. Event licence applications have a statutory three-week window for members of the public to make submissions, which would end on September 12, just six days before the event is to take place.
The delay in lodging the application meant that it did not allow the Chief Executive of the Council, Brendan McGrath, sufficient time to prepare a written report for councillors, or put the item on the Council agenda as per the guidelines.
The Council this week did not share details with the Galway City Tribune of the event permit application, which is currently with its Parks Department.
In a statement to this newspaper, Galway 2020 said: “The programme launch event will proceed as planned on September 18. An event licence and an event permit were both applied for from the outset. Because of a delay in advertising the event licence application, we are progressing with the event permit.
“The event permit allows for an audience capacity of up to 5,000 in Eyre Square. An event licence would have allowed for an audience capacity of up to 8,000. Apart from the reduced potential audience the event will proceed exactly as planned. As part of the application process for the event licence and permit, Galway 2020 has engaged with all of the relevant authorities including the Gardaí in relation to traffic management as well as the HSE and Chief Fire Officer regarding emergency procedures.”
A spokesperson for Galway City Council said: “It is my understanding that Galway 2020 intended to hold a public event in Eyre Square on Wednesday, September 18. They initially thought that the event would attract up to 8,000 people but have since revised that attendance figure downwards to less than 5,000, and so they do not need to go through the statutory process for a public event licence. It is being dealt with by the Parks Department, by way of a permit.”
The event is due to begin at 6pm in Eyre Square, and invites have been issued to dignitaries.
Galway City Ring Road could open in stages
With the required additional information submitted to An Bord Pleanála by Galway County Council, the Chief Executive of the City Council said the decades-long saga of a Ring Road for Galway has crossed another significant hurdle – with the next to be a public oral hearing.
Should planning be approved for the Ring Road, Brendan McGrath said he believed it was possible to have the €650 million project completed by 2025 – and said it would be possible to open it in stages.
“One of the good things about the Ring Road is it can potentially be delivered in phases. It doesn’t have to wait for the entire road to be built for part of it to open,” he said.
Director of Services Ruth McNally said this incremental approach would be important in several projects – not just the Ring Road.
“You might look at that and think it’s very piecemeal – a bit here and a bit there. But we are conscious that the city is very busy and even the smallest intervention is going to cause traffic. That is why we are doing things incrementally in different places,” said Ms McNally.
As reported in the Galway City Tribune last week, Cosain, the Community Road Safety and Information Network, obtained documentation which revealed a predicted 37% increase in CO2 emissions as a result of the new road – a figure from the Government-approved business case for the Ring Road.
However, Mr McGrath refuted this claim, arguing that the shift to electric vehicles would reduce this figure.
“Galway Transportation Strategy, the overarching strategy, is predicated on a principle of climate sustainability. It’s about giving Galway’s streets back to its citizens and getting rid of congestion. Getting people onto high-frequency, sustainable and green public transport.
“Under the Government’s Climate Change Plan, launched a couple of months ago, it envisages there will be 900,000 electric vehicles on Ireland’s roads by the year 2030. That’s the Government’s target, so when the Ring Road is built, most of those will be electric cars,” he claimed.
“The city centre becomes a safe place to walk, to cycle – a place where you will get your bus to wherever you need. Where you don’t have to be car dependent and where the parallel works around reducing flooding, greening the city and the dividend from 2020 – I talk about transforming transport, but’s about transforming the city and how we live in the city,” he continued.
One area where works were already underway was the regeneration of the pedestrian centre, said Ms McNally.
“Phase two of Shop Street is going to be starting at the end of this month. That’s Eason’s to Lynch’s Castle. As well as that, we’ll shortly be starting an automated bollard contract as well. It will be a separate contract,” she said.
Phase two will be completed by early December, with another phase to be complete in quarter one of 2020, said Mr McGrath. The bollards will be completed at the same time, he added.
Plans progress for Traveller-specific housing in Galway City
Plans for new Traveller-specific homes in the city will be progressed before the year’s end.
And Galway City Council is also proposing the upgrade of halting sites in Westside and Headford Road in the coming months.
Elected members will be asked to vote on a Part 8 planning application this Autumn for a new housing scheme in Doughiska. Costing €1.2 million, housing agency Respond is planning to build 23 social homes in total, with four of them earmarked as Traveller-specific.
Separately, a City Council spokesperson said more Traveller housing schemes are in the pipeline.
“Two other proposals for new Traveller schemes are being progressed in discussion with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and I would anticipate that funding approval and planning will be sought towards the end of the year with construction to commence in 2020,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the Council expects to make progress on the redevelopment of halting sites at Circular Road and Carrowbrowne.
“The planned redevelopment of the Circular Road halting site is also progressing through design stage and again will come before City councillors later this year for planning approval. No funding approval has been sought just yet. Construction will commence in 2020. Replacement of welfare units at Carrowbrowne will commence later this year and will be funded through Council’s own internal receipts,” a spokesperson said.
In relation to Carrowbrowne, the Council has invited tenders to provide 13 new welfare units at the site. “All welfare units must be robust, made of galvanised steel construction for long-life durability and must be secure with a heavy-duty walls, doors and roof and must be vandal proof. The units incorporate a kitchen with a sink, built in presses and drawers, a bathroom with a wash-hand basin, toilet and shower and a service room for plant,” the specifications state. They must also comply with current fire and safety regulations.
The Council said that other standard social housing schemes are being proposed and constructed that will include provision of standard local authority accommodation for Traveller families. Travellers are also being housed through RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme) and HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) and in emergency accommodation.
The Council was responding to figures obtained by Galway TD Anne Rabbitte (FF) for the Galway City Tribune, which revealed the local authority was not drawing down its allocation of Traveller Accommodation Programmes (TAP) funding.
In 2016, some €40,000 was allocated and there was no draw down; in 2017, some €209,000 was allocated and there was just €95,000 drawn down; and last year some €177,000 was the allocation and none of it has been drawn down.
In response, the Council said it had received funding under TAP in recent years for fire safety works at halting sites and for the completion of extensions to Traveller homes.
“There are numerous other sources of funding for Traveller accommodation including our own revenue budget, principally for maintenance services on existing sites and schemes, and waste management,” the Council said.
The spokesperson added: “In relation to new build schemes, the principle source is through the Department of Housing. The Council have not drawn down any funds over the past number of years as the various schemes now proposed are at planning stage. Single acquisitions of individual homes are also recouped from the Department, including homes for Travellers. Houses acquired for Traveller families are no longer recouped from the Traveller Accommodation Programme fund as was the case in the past.
“The Council did not request specific funding under the Traveller Accommodation Programme for 2019 because we were advised by the Department that fire safety works at halting sites were no longer eligible under that specific fund and because funding for extensions now comes from the general allocation for such works, without reference to whether the house is occupied by a Traveller family or otherwise.”
Galway Traveller Movement said that budget underspend has been an issue every year since 2000, even though it has only received attention recently.
“The fifth Traveller Accommodation Programme will be adopted by Galway City and County Councils later this year. These programmes are five years in duration. The targets within the previous four plans have not been met and there has been continual underspend since the beginning of the first plans in 2000. There has been a lack of action for 20 years and local authorities must take responsibility for their lack of provision,” said Bridget Kelly, Deputy Co-Ordinator of GTM.
She said that two monitoring reports produced by GTM have detailed the “unacceptable lack of progress in meeting the targets” of the Traveller Accommodation Programmes in both Galway City and County.
“Sadly, as a result of this lack of implementation, members of the Traveller community, including a large population of children, are living in substandard conditions. There has not been the political will for these plans to be implemented and as a result the Traveller accommodation crisis continues to worsen. It is disingenuous for Councils to posit the blame onto the Traveller community for the lack of delivery of Traveller accommodation,” added Ms Kelly.
Redirected City Council funds lead to recruitment ban
An unofficial embargo on staff recruitment is underway at Galway City Council – because money earmarked for more front-line workers has been diverted to deal with the local homelessness crisis and housing shortage.
All 18 city councillors voted in favour of taking some €280,000 from City Hall’s revenue budget in 2019, to put towards city homeless services.
Dermot Mahon, acting Director of Services for Housing, told elected members, in response to a query from Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind), that the cutbacks to pay for additional homeless funds would come from the “payroll sector”. He said that there would be a delay in recruiting Council staff that had been earmarked for certain areas.
“No frontline projects or services will be affected,” said Mr Mahon, whose report said the money would be sourced from “saving across the revenue budget”.
He explained that the approved budget for homeless services in the West this year was €5.822m. By July, some 91% of it (€5.2m) had been spent.
“It is envisaged that an additional €4m is required to fund homeless services to the end of 2019,” he said, adding that 90% of this extra spend was recoupable from Government.
The remaining 10% is to be paid by local authorities in the West, and €280,000 was Galway City Council’s share of that.
Cllr Niall McNelis said the City Council was spending €350,000 per month on housing homeless people in city hotels and hostels. “It’s getting worse,” he said.
Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) said families are being split up by the homeless crisis. “Women are told to go to COPE, the men go to the Fairgreen,” she said. “I know one mother who three weeks after giving birth had to change hotels. Children aren’t within schools’ catchment. That’s the reality of this,” she said.
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) said he was aware of one family who have been living in emergency accommodation for three years.
Cllr John Connolly (FF) said the Fine Gael-led Government, which is being kept in power by his party, was completely out of touch on the issue of housing and homelessness; and he urged party leader Micheál Martin to collapse the Coalition and spark a general election.
Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said the Government had taken steps to rectify the problem, including introducing Rent Pressure Zones. He said many landlords are fleeing the market because it’s not worth their while once mortgages are paid and the taxman takes his share of the profits.