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CITY TRIBUNE

Green light for 100 new homes in east of Galway City

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A computer-generated image of how the new housing development will look.

Local residents have lost their battle against plans for the construction of more than 100 apartments and houses in Ballybrit which they believe will worsen an already chaotic traffic situation – a daily feature on AA Roadwatch radio reports prior to Covid-19.

Last December, plans for the development of land adjacent to The Meadows in Ballybrit were lodged with An Bord Pleanála – despite failing to meet City Development Plan guidelines on open space and parking.

Trean Meadow Ltd had sought permission to develop the five-acre site off the Ballybane More road (adjacent to Ballybrit Heights and The Meadows) and construct 78 apartments and 24 houses, as well as a childcare facility with space for 45 kids.

The residential units will be in a mix of one, two, three and four-beds.

The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under Strategic Housing Development (SHD) ‘fast-track’ legislation – proposals for housing developments of more than 100 residential units or 200 student bed spaces can be made directly to the Board following initial consultations with local authorities.

The application itself noted that it may be in ‘potential material contravention’ of the current Galway City Development Plan, which requires that 153 resident parking spaces and 34 visitor spaces be provided. However, the current proposal if for 105 spaces – 44 for the houses and the remaining 61 spaces for the apartments. A further seven have been allocated for the creche.

“The delivery of a high-quality residential development and associated infrastructure including a childcare facility should not be constrained by the open space and carparking provision as proposed. The development complies with the objectives of efficient use of land, delivering housing on residential zoned land and within one of the five key cities of the country.

“The proposed car parking provision equates to at least one space per dwelling . . . [it] can be justified due to the proximity of the application site to public transport links,” the application reads.

It adds that while just 14% of the site has been allocated for open space (the Development Plan stipulates 15%), there are recreational facilities at Castle Park, a 12-minute walk, and Merlin Woods, a 28-minute walk.

During the public submission process, several local residents made submissions to An Bord Pleanála in relation to the proposals.

All of the residents expressed concerns about existing traffic problems in the general area and noted that Ballybane More Road is used as a rat-run from the city during evening rush hour and into the city in the mornings due to the proximity of major exits to Dublin, Oranmore, Limerick, Mayo and Sligo.

One resident recorded 1,135 vehicles passing the adjacent road between 7.10am and 9.15am on one Wednesday morning in January.

Another resident said that due to the lack of parking spaces proposed in the development, it was reasonable to expect the excess cars of residents and visitors would have to park on the Ballybane More Road, which is currently narrower that standard roads in the vicinity – any parked cars would cause an obstruction.

Another resident on that road said that HGVs often get locked when trying to pass each other, and his garden wall has been demolished several times as a result.

On the morning of January 14 between 8-9am, he counted 1,320 traffic movements past his driveway.

“The development is grossly oversized for the location. It is totally out of proportion with existing dwellings. It is visually out of character and will destroy the last remaining undeveloped landscape and wildlife habitat in this area.

“I have no objection to a drastically scaled-down version [of the development] going ahead. The visual impact is absolutely unfair to my family, my neighbours and the poor souls that would have to live in that concrete jungle,” the objector said.

The DRA Community Group (Doughiska, Roscam, Ardaun) said the Ballybane More Road is not adequate to accommodate the existing traffic flow, and believed the three-storey apartment block fronting onto the road would be out of character.

Concerns were also expressed about the lack of pedestrian pathways and cycle lanes within the development and outside the site.

“The density [of the residences] is not considered conducive to family life, as they are considered too confined, without additional open space for children and adults to play and to live in harmony,” the DRA submission reads.

It added that there are a limited number of openings between buildings, which created a potential for them to be used as alleyways and therefore antisocial behaviour.

In her report on the application, An Bord Pleanála’s Senior Planning Inspector, Fiona Fair, said the development would be a “medium density scheme that respects, responds to and integrates with the immediate and surrounding context” and that it would not have significant undue adverse impact on the amenity of the adjoining area.

Ms Fair added that the quantum and quality of landscaping and public open space was acceptable, but highlighted that the site is constrained in terms of change in levels and the use of retaining walls, staircases and an embankment.

She also pointed out the development would result in an improvement in terms of footpath connectivity along the Ballybane More road, and improve pedestrian connectivity.

The Board approved planning permission, attaching a number of conditions, including a stipulation that construction work can only take place from 7am to 7pm Mondays to Saturdays and that 105 carparking spaces and 150 secure cycle parking spaces be provided.

It also ordered that one of the two-bed single-storey houses be omitted from the plans and the area be used for open space instead.

Trean Meadow is owned by Belmullet racehorse owner and bookmaker Damian Lavelle.

CITY TRIBUNE

Blue Teapot instilling creativity in people with intellectual disabilities

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Graduation day at Blue Teapot’s Performing Arts School for people with intellectual disabilities can be bitter-sweet, according to the school’s co-ordinator, Ana Belle Alvarez.

“In some ways, you feel very sad when they’re gone when they graduate. After three years of sharing moments, and sharing so many things, it can be sad. But then it’s exciting when you have the new people coming in as well,” she said.

The Performing Arts School at Munster Avenue in the city is one strand of the Blue Teapot brand, which is now inviting new recruits for the semester beginning next September.

The other better-known strand is its Ensemble, also based at Munster Avenue, which includes a professional troupe of actors, who stage performances at their own theatre space and elsewhere, throughout the year.

One aim of those who join the former is, ultimately, to land a role in the latter.

“That’s the dream. We don’t have the capacity (to meet demand) but that’s the aim of everyone,” said Ana, a Spaniard, who has been with Blue Teapot for almost six years.

Many in the professional Ensemble were schooled in the Blue Teapot Performing Arts School.

Two students who graduated last year are now part of the 11-strong Ensemble, which had two spaces available.

But even those who don’t progress to a professional career in theatre with Blue Teapot will benefit from the course which is Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) accredited, according to one of a handful of well-known teachers at the school, Rod Goodall.

“To be trained in the arts – drama, dance, music and so – does not mean that the student will achieve a career in these disciplines. It means that they’ll enjoy more creativity, more confidence and be better equipped for social interactions in their lives,” said the drama tutor and theatre director.

There is some crossover, though.

“Sometimes, it has been the case where the students of the Performing Arts School, participate in a production with the professional actors,” explained Ana.

“Parallel to that, our drama teacher sometimes produces a theatre show just for the students to showcase to their family members,” she said.

The three-year programme leads to a certification in QQI Levels 2 and 3. It is an opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities, who are aged 18 and over, to access formal training.

Modules include drama, music, drawing, costume, design and event participation. The programme also incorporates life-skills training including interpersonal skills, online safety, health and fitness.

Literacy and IT supports are provided by Galway Adult Basic Education Services.

“Every training programme is very structured and the students work really hard in the classes, learning so many skills and it’s all very practical but they have fun as well,” said Ana.

When asked to describe the sort of people with intellectual disabilities the school is looking to recruit, Ana said: “Anyone who has a passion for the arts; a passion for performing arts; anyone who has a passion for the theatre.”

School is on Monday to Thursday, 10am-3pm. Much of the programme focuses on personal development where learners can fulfil their artistic potential.

“To be able to develop their own potential and their own ideas, everything we do with tutors is based in the student’s own creativity and their own ideas. If they’re creating a mask, for example, it’s based on their own research of what they like, and they transform what they like, and their own personality and creativity, and they transfer that into their final work,” she said.

The company liaises with organisations such as Ability West and Brothers of Charity during its recruitment drive, and it also contacts schools for school-leavers with intellectual disabilities who are seeking a new challenge.

Ana’s biggest problem is that they have capacity for an intake of just five people every year.

“It’s very hard because we have many people applying for the Performing Arts School, and we only have five places. You’d love to take everyone, but the reality is we don’t have the capacity,” she said.

*The deadline for applications is Friday, February 3, at 5pm. For further information or to request a brochure visit the website, email or contact 087 652 0146.

“Photo: Blue Teapot members Michael Hayes and Valerie Egan on the set designed by Sabine Dargent and with costumes designed by Charmian Goodall).

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CITY TRIBUNE

Taoiseach to look at Minor Injuries Unit for Galway

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An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government will consider a new Minor Injuries Unit for Galway.

During Leaders Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday, Independent TD for Galway West, Noel Grealish made the case for a new Minor Injuries Unit (MIU).

Deputy Grealish said there are 15 of these MIUs dotted around the country, but none in Galway . . . and they are proven to help relieve pressure in Emergency Departments.

“The Emergency Department at UHG remains one of the busiest in the country, without the relief that would be provided by thousands of people being redirected to a Minor Injuries Unit,” he said.

Mr Varadkar replied that MIUs worked extremely well “with people with minor injuries not having to go to very busy and crowded emergency departments and, more important, people with minor injuries who need to be seen and to receive healthcare getting that healthcare in an uncrowded and more humane setting within a few hours.

“We are happy to give consideration to a Minor Injury Unit for Galway but I am not at liberty to make that commitment here and now. We will certainly take it seriously, however,” said An Taoiseach.

Deputy Grealish has also stated that it is unrealistic to believe that a new elective hospital for Galway could be built within four or five years.

“Realistically, it could take 15 years or more, given that the recently-opened radiotherapy unit in Galway took over 14 years to deliver.

“And the Taoiseach himself acknowledged in his response to me that so many important projects in the west have been delayed, particularly the emergency department and the paediatric and maternity units at University Hospital Galway, which, in his own words, should have been under construction by now, let alone have gone to planning.

“Given the track record of the HSE in delivering projects, I believe that a new elective hospital could be years away and a minor injuries unit should be provided in Galway to help provide some relief.  I intend to pursue this further with the Minister for Health and the HSE over the coming months,” Deputy Grealish said.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Groundbreaking coronary operation at UHG offers vision of future healthcare

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The announcement this week that Galway University Hospitals carried out the first robotic guided coronary intervention in Ireland and UK, has given researchers a glimpse into the future possibilities presented by this medical breakthrough.

Currently, University Hospital Galway is the centre of excellence for cardiovascular medicine for one million people in the West and North West.

It’s where patients from Sligo, Donegal and elsewhere go for coronary procedures, such as the insertion of stents to relieve blockages in the arteries of the heart.

That involves hours of travel, on top of lengthy procedures, which can be exhausting for patients.

But one potential benefit of new robotic technology is the prospect of remote procedures, explained Professor Faisal Sharif, Consultant Cardiologist, who carried out the first procedure in Ireland or UK, at UHG.

“I think we will see in the future more advantages, and value, when these procedures can be done remotely,” Prof Sharif told the Tribune.

This would involve a patient going to Sligo University Hospital or Letterkenny University Hospital to have a stent procedure, which would be carried out via the internet by a robotic ‘hand’ controlled by a consultant cardiologist based at UHG.

Obviously, the basic structures and a trained crew would need to be available in Sligo or Letterkenny, including nurses and junior doctors.

And Prof Sharif cautioned that for remote procedures to become reality here, there needs to be more research and development and more funding.

“That’s the potential and that’s the future but it hasn’t come yet,” he said.

What has come is exciting, too, though.

Before Christmas, Prof Sharif carried out three procedures which combined the benefits of coronary intervention with the precision of robotics.

The new technology is used in stent procedures to relieve blockages in the arteries of the heart. It allows for greater precision in positioning stents, allowing the interventional cardiologists to move the stent a millimetre at a time.

It also allows the medical team to have an enhanced, close-up view of the angiographic images and information during the entire procedure.

The new technology allows interventional cardiologists to use the robot as an extension of their own hand, allowing for robotic precision and details visualisation when positioning of guide catheters, guide-wires and balloon or stent catheters.

Prof Sharif said the technology was beneficial both to the patient and to the cardiologist.

“The main advantage of robotics is that it is safe and very precise in stent placement. It allows the accurate placement for up to 1mm at a time,” he said.

For the patient, this increased precision means less metallic material in the arteries, “and so less long-term side effects from that metal”.

The use of robotics also benefits staff, meaning fewer back injuries, less exposure to radiation and more precise placement of stents, he said.

Prof Sharif said UHG would be performing these procedures more regularly. They’ve started with straightforward cases, and over time, when they understand more about it, and the volume increases, they will increase complexity.

Seven more procedures are planned for the next fortnight but won’t entirely replace the traditional method, he said.

“Physicians learn a technique to do things over many years. That’s our livelihood, that’s what we do. If we bring machines in, there is going to be resistance. But at the moment, it’s to see the positive side of things, see how it can improve outcomes, how it can do things more safely, how it can take the load off physicians, who will still be fully trained to do it.

“It is just assistance. I think we need to learn what the potential is. It won’t replace anything. If any hospital has 10 operators, four or five may adopt it, others may stay the traditional way. I think the change will be slow. But I hope over time when they see the results they might like to change,” he said.

Originally from Pakistan, Prof Sharif’s home for 26 years is Ireland. As well as clinical work, the academic part of his job involves University of Galway tutoring and research commitments.

He’s a founder member of a university programme on medical device innovation called BioInnovate Ireland, which has developed start-ups over 10 years.

That synergy, as well as funding through Science Foundation Ireland, led to the first robotic procedure in Ireland and the UK taking place in Galway.

“In Galway we have a big medical device sector. It’s the ideal place to be for medical device developments, especially cardiovascular,” he added.

Chris Kane, General Manager of Galway University Hospitals welcomed the new technology.

“Innovations such as this are transforming medicine . .  . this state-of-the-art robotics will enhance patient care for our patients across the West and Northwest of Ireland,” she added.

(Photo: The robotic guided coronary intervention at UHG. It was the first such procedure in Ireland and the UK).

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