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Homelessness in Galway will be a long-term problem

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New figures from Galway City Council show there are almost 4,900 households on the waiting list for local authority housing.

The most recent quarterly report from Galway City Council shows an increase in households waiting for local authority housing. Figures reveal there are 483 more on the list than in April of last year.

The majority – approximately 80% – of households on the waiting list are awaiting small scale one or two bed houses.

Galway city council currently has 485 properties under RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme) and 139 in Long Term Leasing.

Under the RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme), the council draws up contracts with landlords to provide housing for people with long term housing needs (generally speaking, those availing of Rent Supplement for more than 18 months are considered for RAS). The local authority pays the full rent directly to the landlord on behalf of the tenant and tenants pay rent direct to City Council.

The amount payable is determined by the Council’s Differential Rent Scheme – a rent assessment procedure designed so that weekly rent charged on a property is based on the person’s ability to pay.

But in the past 12 months, 50 landlords have withdrawn from the RAS scheme – thus decreasing the number of properties available to tackle the escalating housing crisis.

Galway City Council cites market forces from the private rental sector as the likely reason for this dropout rate.

Despite the fact that landlords cannot just break a contract, a problem has emerged nationally whereby proprietors escape the contract by maintaining they are selling the property or are making it available for the use of a family member.

In reality, it is believed landlords are opting out of scheme for financial reasons. Under RAS, property owners can expect an approximate €800 per month for a 3-bed house in Galway, whereas that same property could make in excess of €1,000 in private rented accommodation.

Former Labour Party Councillor Nuala Nolan said: “I have heard where a landlord terminated a contract saying his daughter needed the house… next thing he had a gang of students living in it.”

One homeless man and his wife contacted the Galway City Tribune last week to share their story of desperation. They have been without a home since March 2015.

The couple say they were forced to leave their accommodation in Salthill last year after their landlord “had troubles with the bank”; they insist they had a good rapport with their former landlord who agreed to reinstate them as tenants once she had “sorted everything out”.

Unfortunately for the couple, the accommodation they hoped to return to was irreparably damaged by flood water and deemed uninhabitable.

The man and his wife have fluctuated between staying with friends – sleeping on couches – and sleeping in his car. He reveals the feeling of unease at waking up in someone else’s home while children are running around getting ready for school. “It’s embarrassing” he says.

The husband asserts he is unable to work due to mental illness, and confides that he suffers from severe anxiety and depression. As a result, he is wholly dependent on disability welfare. His wife is also unemployed.

COPE Galway and City Council have attempted to assist them in finding a temporary settlement solution. However, he has declined accommodation offered by COPE Galway at Fairgreen Hostel claiming his condition prohibits him from sharing with other people.

“I have anxiety and depression,” he explains. These problems – which result in an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations – have prevented him from seeking temporary solution to his problems. “I would rather sleep in my car than share with people – I can’t,” he insists.

“I don’t know where we’re staying tonight,” he confesses, adding that this has been an everyday uncertainty for the best part of a year. “I’ve nowhere to go” he added.

Galway City Council has enlisted the couple for NABCO, a social rented housing co-op which provides housing to people recruited from Local Authority waiting lists.

In the meantime, however, they remain homeless.

And with less properties becoming available for rent, their dilemma shows little sign of abating.

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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