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Government admits go-slow on rural broadband

Denise McNamara

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Reliable internet will be still be a pipe dream for many rural households who are looking at 2020 at the earliest to get connected under the Government’s latest broadband initiative – with a date ten years out from now touted by some of the more “cynical” councillors.

A senior official in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources who reiterated the Government’s commitment that all premises in the State will have access to high speed broadband regardless of location was widely derided at this week’s Galway County Council meeting.

Sean Griffin explained to the councillors meeting in Loughrea that after commercial companies invested €2.5 billion to supply 1.6m premises, 70% of the country would have access to broadband of a minimum of 30 Mbps on download by next year.

State intervention was required to get the remaining 30% connected along 100,000km of road network, which included villages with less than 900 premises, rural ribbon developments and one-off houses.

A map was published last November which indicated every building in the country which either had or would have broadband by 2016. An intervention strategy will be published midway through the year outlining what level of work is required to ensure 100% coverage.

Tenders will be sought to roll out the broadband network by December with plans to start the work next year.

“We expect it will be a fibre-based solution to ensure it’s an infrastructure that will last into the future…we expect it to start being rolled out by 2016 and completed by 2020,” said the civil servant.

But councillors scoffed at the department’s broadband plan as nothing more than electioneering ahead of an upcoming election.

Cllr James Charity (Ind) labelled it an attempt to renege on commitments made to 86 rural locations in the run up to last year’s local elections. His fellow independent Des Joyce remarked that rural Ireland could well be left until 2025 to have such a basic resource.

Cllr Sean Canney (Ind) said jobs in Headford would have to move to Galway if companies wanted to grow and remain competitive due to the lack of broadband. “Shame on us,” he exclaimed.

“The whole thing is a farce and ye’ve known it for the last five years,” fumed Cllr Seamus Walsh (FF), who accused the department of hiding behind regulations to delay the roll-out.

Cllr Noel Thomas (FF) said he had proof that companies were claiming to have coverage in an area and once people were locked into expensive contracts “boom it’s gone”.

Fine Gael Cllr Aidan Donohue said the education of children was being put at risk because they were not able to use their computers at home.

Sinn Féin Cllr Tom Healy said it was no wonder the project was “in the state it’s in” when one of the Government’s commercial partners was Eircom, which maintained ‘dial up’ broadband as long as possible for exhorbitant rates and did not invest in infrastructure upgrades.

Councillor Tim Broderick (Ind) said you might as well burn the document if it is subject to a cost benefit analysis, citing a case of a house being constantly flooded which is not getting State support as it did not meet the cost benefit criteria.

Mr Griffin said while he understood the frustration and cynicism of councillors, his department was going full steam ahead with the plan, which had to meet regulations about public procurement, State aid and public consultation.

“Our policy is to have a high speed broadband service to every premises in the country no matter where they are – we are single-mindedly dedicated to that. I understand completely the frustration and empathise.

“This is the biggest and most important infrastructure project in the country for the next 20 years. Please don’t be under any illusion we’re not committed to making it happen because we are.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site

Dara Bradley

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An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.

The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.

It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.

In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.

“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.

A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.

A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.

It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.

Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.

The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.

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CITY TRIBUNE

NUIG student accommodation firm records loss

Enda Cunningham

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The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.

However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.

Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.

The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.

Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.

The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.

Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.

Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.

The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).

The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.

It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.

As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.

It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.

In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan

Dara Bradley

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Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.

Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.

The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.

It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.

Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.

Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.

“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”

The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.

He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.

“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.

“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.

“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.

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