For the next five months, Galway must up its game “phenomenally” to build key partnerships, create a superlative 2020 European City of Culture programme and push the boat out in all aspects of culture to win over the judges, according to the City’s Chief Executive.
Galway City and County must throw everything at this designation – akin to the city winning the Olympics – as they will not be allowed to reapply until 2035, Brendan McGrath points out.
There is no room for complacency in what is a mammoth task ahead before completing the second bid book in May and lodging it by mid-2016. After that the judging panel will visit Galway by early July before another presentation is delivered by the 2020 team. An announcement on who takes the title is expected by late July or early August.
The figures are dizzying. Research has shown that visitor numbers in the decade that followed the designation went up by a quarter. In the year of the designation, visitor numbers to a city the size of Galway could jump by a million.
If successful, the Government will spend €15m on direct investment, topped up by €1.5m from the EU. Other sources of income could see another €5m being directed to the cultural infrastructure.
The benefits are beyond doubt. But the title comes at a significant cost – successful bids at the lowest scale have cost cities €20m – all the way up to €150m in some Spanish citadels.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make something and bring something transformation to Galway,” reflected Mr McGrath.
So far, the team have been blown away by the “tsunami of goodwill” shown by the wider community in getting through the first stage of the judging process.
“I think it’s very important it’s a united bid between the city and county – there will be as much gained for the county as the city and allows Galway City to be the true regional capital. The benefits will permeate every nook and cranny and beyond – as far Clare Island, Mayo and Roscommon.”
Building projects the city will focus on include a new civic library, a visual arts space and a modern flexible performance space, capable of accommodating various artistic bodies with seating of between 800 and 1,500 – depending on the business case.
“We don’t want a white elephant that costs a fortune to run that you can’t fill every night of the week. It has to be big enough to fill for gigs but not too big that intimate events don’t work,” he explained.
“It’s not just about bricks and mortar for the sake of it, we’d all love to build big and brash but there has to be a business case. We have to reimagine and revise existing spaces, using what we have and making the best of it.”
The programme will be created within the current infrastructural footprint as the judging panel must be convinced that it can realistically be delivered and is not dependent on Government election promises that may never be realised.
One of the most important aspects of the bid will be the joint cultural strategy currently being drawn up which is a key requirement of the EU.
The bid book will also emphasise the cultural legacy of the designation, explained Mr McGrath.
“How can we use culture to deal with social inclusiveness, help remedy democratic deficiencies, giving people a voice in their city so the legacy part of the bid is phenomenally important,” he said.
“Europe wants to see in the bid how to make Galway in 2020 relevant to 500m-plus Europeans so that some of the aspects of the programme deal with modern issues like migrants, minority languages – the Irish language is our USP [Unique Selling Point], Roma – we have the Travelling community – food, floods and climate change – these are all major European issues.”
The theme of the bid is making waves – and that’s all types of waves that are culturally constructive, he points out.
“Whether that’s digital, technological or brain waves, it could be disruptive, in terms of tackling some of the sacred cows out there, or constructive in bringing out the next wave of Galwegians to become the cultural ambassadors for the next generation.”
Outpatients’ concerns over reduced services at Merlin Park
Patients who use ‘Hospital 1’ at Merlin Park face uncertainty over services after nurses were re-deployed to University Hospital Galway.
The hospital unit carries out infusion and transfusion services, as well as oncology and haematology.
Saolta University Hospital Group – which operates the public hospitals –has transferred nurses from Hospital 1 in recent weeks, so that it had sufficient staff available to reopen St Anthony’s Ward at UHG.
St Anthony’s is a 28-bed ward that had been closed all during Covid-19. It has now been re-opened, using redeployed nurses from Hospital 1, to cater for the return of essential procedures at UHG.
Saolta has argued that it is trying to maintain core services at UHG and it is re-deploying staff from elective areas in Merlin Park.
Merlin Park and UHG combined is Galway University Hospital – essentially the same workplace for industrial relations purposes – and is part of the same umbrella of hospitals in the West and North West run by Saolta.
A number of outpatients who have used Hospital 1 have told the Galway City Tribune they are concerned with the change, and the implications it might have on the services they receive.
Hospital 1 is a medical ward that offers a Monday to Friday service on the first floor of the main building on Merlin Park grounds.
They do infusions and transfusions and treat patients with MS, those who are anaemic, as well as oncology and haematology.
Those impacted by the reduced service at Hospital 1 also include people with blood disorders; people with blood cancers or leukaemia; and people with conditions such as myelodysplasia.
“Neurologists use it to observe patients who’ve had seizures. There’s a multitude of consultants who would’ve used Hospital 1 for various investigative procedures. Rather than going into hospital in UHG, occupying a bed, Hospital 1 is used for infusions, and you could be in and out in a day, or stay a couple of nights,” a source said.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called on Saolta to put in place a contingency plan.
Anne Burke, INMO, Industrial Relations Officer, Western Region, confirmed to the Galway City Tribune that some of her members have been re-deployed from Merlin Park to UHG, because of a massive shortage of nurses at the Newcastle site.
“If they pulled the Hospital 1 nursing staff out of UHG today, St Anthony’s would have to close and that’s the nub of it. They simply do not have the staff to do it,” explained Ms Burke.
“The staff have redeployed. They were initially told it would be for two weeks. But clearly, that won’t be sustainable in the context of massive vacancies at the UHG site.
“There’s bound to be a very definitive impact on the service. We have members already working overtime, and part-time workers who have upped their hours. But you are only flogging a dead horse if you’re asking people to work over and above. There’s only so much overtime you can do – no matter what money is offered – in the context of the conditions on the wards,” she said.
Asked when Hospital 1 might return to ‘normal’ staffing levels, Ms Burke said: “When is it likely to revert? There’s a big question mark over it, and our position is that it’s an unanswered question in the context of the deficit of nurses at UHG site and the attempt by management to maintain core services.
“That might be of cold comfort to those who depend on transfusions in Hospital 1. But they are going to have to put in a contingency plan about all of this and how it’s going to be managed and how Joe and Mary Bloggs who is looking for an infusion or transfusion, how are they going to get that. They cannot just be left in abeyance. They have to receive some element of treatment. Whether that is done through engagement with the private hospitals again, we don’t know.”
The recent cyber attack on the HSE has hampered INMO’s ability to communicate with hospital management.
Hundreds of new apartments in Galway will not be available to buy
The backer of the Crown Square scheme in Mervue is planning a massive ‘build to rent’ housing scheme as part of the development, with 345 apartments.
Padraic Rhatigan was previously granted permission for 288 apartments on the site but has now applied for a modified and higher-density development, with blocks ranging from four to nine storeys in height.
There will also be a neighbourhood facility with a gym, a primary care medical centre with pharmacy, a ‘working from home’ lounge, games room and a creche.
There will be 240 two-bed apartments, 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds, all of which will be specifically for the rental market and not available to purchase.
The plans include three blocks ranging from five to nine storeys in height, with garden courtyards.
To meet social housing requirements, the developer plans to transfer 35 of the apartments (20 two-bed, 10 one-bed and 5 three-bed) to Galway City Council.
A total of 138 car-parking spaces have been allocated on the lower basement levels of Crown Square for residents, and there will be 1,200 secure bicycle parking spaces across the development.
The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under ‘Strategic Housing Development’ legislation, which allows for the Board to decide on applications residential developments of more than 100 units following initial consultations with the local authority.
According to Rhatigans, the property market has changed since it was granted permission in November 2019 for 288 apartments in three blocks ranging from five to eight storeys in height.
“The rationale behind this proposal stems from the changes to market modelling and the demand for residential accommodation which have arisen since the previously approved application.
“These amendments … are being proposed following a review of the economic viability of the overall scheme,” the applicant previously said.
According to the new application, the scheme is intended to create a “distinctive new city quarter”.
“Important pedestrian and cyclist connections are also incorporated into the design by creating links between Monivea Road and Joyces Road providing an accessible street network for walkers and cyclists. It is considered that the proposed development would bring significant socio-economic benefits to the community,” the application reads.
The apartments constitute Phase 2 of the Crown Square development. The first phase is already under construction and includes a 180-bed hotel with bar, restaurant and conference facilities and five office blocks with space for up to 3,500 workers.
Mr Rhatigan recently told An Bord Pleanála that despite uncertainty in the market with hotels at the moment due to Covid-19, there is still a plan to proceed with the hotel in Phase 1 “and broadly with the masterplan for the overall scheme”.
He explained that the substructure of the hotel was currently being put in and that Rhatigans are in discussions with a few potential operators, but are not as far along in the discussions due to the delays brought about by Covid-19, however, it is believed to be still viable.
It remains the intention to be a high-quality hotel with a good-branded operator on board, he told the Board.
Two of the buildings in Phase 1 are expected to be completed with landscaping and occupiers moving in at the end of this year.
City Council ‘does not outbid’ private buyers in housing market
Charities that buy houses in Galway for homeless people are not distorting the property market, a senior official at City Hall has said.
Dermot Mahon, Acting Director of Services for Housing at Galway City Council, insisted that Approved Housing Bodies (AHB), which provide and manage rented social houses, do not outbid private buyers in the housing market.
He was responding to queries from elected members before they approved a loan of almost €1 million to facilitate three AHBs to buy four city homes.
“We don’t engage in a bidding process,” Mr Mahon said. “We take a value, and we will not exceed that value. If there are other purchasers we will not engage, and we will not exceed it [valuation].”
He said that there is a cap in all local authority areas set by Government regarding the maximum amount that can be paid to purchase houses for use as social housing rental properties.
Councillors agreed to approve loans of €930,000 for the purchase of four homes.
The agreement included €202,355 to Galway Simon for a two-bed house off the Western Distributor Road in Knocknacarra; some €189,264 to Cope Galway for a one-bed apartment on Dominick Street; and €246,528 and €292,279 respectively to Peter McVerry Trust for two-bed and four-bed houses in Doughiska.
Funding is provided by way of a grant from the Department of the Housing to the local authority who provides the funding to the relevant AHB in the form of a 30-year mortgage. Loan charges are waived provided the terms of the scheme are complied with.
“All properties have been supported by an independent valuation and represent good value for money,” said Mr Mahon.
He said that Simon and Cope were two organisations that had “excellent records” in Galway.
Mr Mahon said that Peter McVerry Trust is “in the market for more property” in Galway.
The Trust already operates the Modular Family Hub in Westside on behalf of the Council, which is a temporary facility to house people who are homeless in accommodation other than hotels and B&Bs.
Two families from the Westside Hub will be relocated to the two new properties bought in Doughiska.
In response to several questions from councillors, Mr Mahon insisted that the method of allocating housing was “transparent”.
“There is no queue skipping – it is done in consultation with us,” he said. It is based on need and length of time on the housing waiting list.
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) called on the Council to carry-out full surveys of houses before they are allocated to tenants.
He pointed to a recent situation in Doughiska where homes were allocated to tenants but the properties were ‘faulty from the get-go’, which was not acceptable. The issue was decided on in the courts, he said.
Mr Mahon said the four new properties being discussed were compliant with planning permission and had been assessed by engineers.