Author: Denise McNamara
~ 5 minutes read
A sports development committee is urging Galway County Council to reframe its draft Loughrea Area Plan to extend the town boundary – and rezone a parcel of land on the bypass to pave the way for a massive multi-sports complex.
Sports clubs are incredulous that the draft plan released last Friday – a full eleven years behind schedule – made no mention of the critical need for new sports facilities in the town.
The likes of GAA football club and Loughrea Rams soccer club, both with over 500 members, have to rent pitches and astro turf grounds in five locations to train and play matches such is the deficit in playing pitches.
Mike Feerick, chairman of the Loughrea Sports Community Development Group (LSCDG), said it has taken nearly six years to get agreement with two families to buy a parcel of 45 acres on north edge of the town which was big enough to accommodate the facility envisaged and would have direct connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians.
This includes the 25 acres owned by the Swimming Pool Committee. An option to buy these lands has now been procured by the LSCDG.
It is currently zoned agricultural, which would rule out sports amenities.
But if the town boundary was extended to include this land – located between the Caheronaun roundabout, the second roundabout on the bypass, and the town – the area plan could change the zoning to recreation and amenity where planning permission for a sports complex suitable for all ages and codes would be feasible.
“We have a legal agreement to acquire the land at agricultural prices, which is very generous. We have commitment from private donations to buy the land,” said Mr Feerick.
“We have clear evidence of a dire need for sports facilities in the town. The Government have said they are willing to give funding for these types of integrated facilities. We just need to secure the planning, and the only way to do that is with Galway County Council through this plan – it’s the only game in town,” he added.
Director of services for Galway County Council Liam Hanrahan said he was aware of the site and the ongoing discussions about.
“Sports fields can’t be done on land zoned agricultural within a Local Area Plan (LAP) or County plan,” he said.
“I’m aware of the site and ongoing discussions. The draft LAP is based on a town boundary.
“Over the coming months submissions on issues such as zoning, boundaries and sites will be discussed, considered and eventually voted upon by the Council members of the Municipal District.”
But Mr Feerick said there was absolutely no land in the town boundary as it currently exists to facilitate sports pitches or a clubhouse.
“What do we do as a community? There’s not one permanent soccer pitch in the whole of Loughrea and soccer is the sport of choice for many different nationalities,” he said.
“You have the likes of the cycling groups changing in the carpark of Supervalu on a Sunday morning.
“Galway County Council has no plan, so we got together to secure the option to acquire this land, which was originally earmarked for a swimming pool that never happened. It’s in the best possible location.
“The Council have no solution and that’s just not good enough. We say we’ll build it, we’ll fund it, they just need to sort the planning.
“Loughrea is a mighty town, it has so much, between the lake, the drama groups, it has great restaurants, boutiques, cafes, but the one thing it lacks is sports facilities and if we miss the boat here it could be another ten years and a whole generation of children who will suffer.
“Soccer teams forfeit games because they can’t host a visiting team, the footballers go to Roscommon to train – what’s that about. This is about having a single facility big enough to accommodate five pitches for GAA football, soccer, a full sized astroturf pitch, a running and walking track, a court for indoor soccer, basketball, badminton, meeting rooms, a place for cyclists, there’s a cricket team in Chanelle that have no facilities – something the whole region could benefit from,” he added.
The site is within a ten to fifteen minute walking/cycling distance from all the residential areas in Loughrea. It could also be easily linked to the Rugby Club, Golf Club and the Athletics club at Bushfield, all located outside the town boundary.
The 2022 Census shows Loughrea has a population of 6,300 and a predicted increase to over 8,000 people by 2026.
Mr Hanrahan said the Council would continue to engage with the group on the project.
Clubs are being urged to attend a meeting with planners to discuss the area plan and outline their current and future needs. It takes place on Tuesday, December 5, at the Loughrea Hotel between 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
“Local engagement by way of submissions, letters of support over the coming weeks will be critical in ensuring that the councillors will be able to amend the LAP and have the town boundary moved to incorporate these lands and have the lands zoned appropriately which would be a huge step forward for Loughrea and the wider community,” urged Mr Feerick.
The closing date for submissions is Monday, January 15 at 4pm.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:
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