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Connacht Tribune

Loughrea has sufficient land zoned to meet growth targets

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Loughrea’s local area plan will be extended for up to five years as there is more than enough residential and commercial land zoned under the current planning blueprint that has not been developed.

Valerie Loughnane of the Forward Planning Department in Galway County Council told a Loughrea Municipal District meeting that the current six-year area plan had a population growth target of 1,133 with a housing land requirement of 22 hectares (54 acres).

That remained a valid population target five years on and there had been limited development in the town since the plan was adopted in 2012.

“There is no evidence that this is going to change substantially in the immediate period ahead. Practically all of the 22 hectares that are required for phase one residential development remain undeveloped and the terms of the local area plan limits the extent of development in Loughrea to that amount to ensure compliance with the core strategy,” she stated in a report to councillors.

She said local area plans would be prepared for Tuam and Clifden first before the Council would turn its attention to Loughrea, Oranmore and Athenry.

By deferring the process, staff could use updated figures from the most-recent Census and benefit from the national planning framework due to be updated.

Cllr Joe Byrne (FG) said in the past ten years town centres had been decimated due to the development of retail parks outside so the next plan should really concentrate on consolidating businesses and homes at the heart of the towns.

“In Gort, there is a huge element of vacancies in the town centre. I’m concerned if we develop out-of-town centres, are we effectively going to shut down towns?”

His comments were reiterated by Cllr Jimmy McClearn (FG) who said Irish towns should not repeat the mistakes of the recent past and should protect town centres.

Cllr Michael Fahy (Ind) said he had been approached by Loughrea businesspeople who were concerned at recent applications for changes to existing planning permission at the Loughrea Shopping Centre at Rathruddy, where Aldi and Supervalu are currently located.

“They claim there’s a threat or a move on to get businesses located to the Athenry Road. This would be detrimental to the town centre. We should ensure the businesses are encouraged to come into the centres.”

Director of Services Jim Cullen said the matter should probably not be discussed in an open forum and the discussion should only focus on whether to defer the local area plan.

Cllr Shane Donnellan (FF) said he believed there would be no building in Loughrea in the next ten years, “never mind five [years]”.

“I’ve been speaking to developers recently and I don’t think the price is right,” he opined.

“We’ve worked with local businesses to get a reduction in the rates for new start-up businesses in empty premises and it’s there, it’s live, but there’s not much take on it.

“To make our towns vibrant, we need to look at the regulations involved. There is an awful lot of red tape to bringing life into our towns, I’m talking about the upper floors. There’s any amount of upstairs units sitting vacant or derelict. That’s an area we need to focus on.”

Fine Gael’s Michael ‘Mogie’ Maher said there were landowners in Loughrea who wanted to develop land which had been zoned residential under phase two but as the land in phase one had not been built on, they were unable to go ahead with their projects.

Ms Loughnane said land that had not been developed during the lifetime of the plan would be re-examined in the next one.

“We can’t keep rezoning lands that are not coming to the market,” she stated.

“I completely agree with you in terms of our town centres. We are looking at a fresh approach . . . zoning outside for commercial purposes leaves it difficult to consolidate. We need to be more focused . . . Loughrea is one of the most pleasant towns in the county so we hope to bring more things back into the town centre.”

A final decision on whether to defer the local area plan would be voted on by all Galway county councillors.

Connacht Tribune

Community fights back on hospital ‘downgrade by stealth’

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Raw emotion, sadness and some anger filled the air at Clifden Town Hall on Sky Road last Sunday afternoon as a shaken community gave honest, personal accounts of the impact the closure by stealth of Clifden District Hospital would have on the people of North Connemara.

The public meeting was hastily organised after fears emerged on Friday that the HSE may transfer respite services from Clifden to Merlin Park Hospital, 50-plus miles away in Galway City.

Families were told their loved ones in Clifden Hospital may have to move home, or go to Merlin Park the following Monday, due to ‘issues with staffing’.

An axe has hung over Clifden Hospital for some years, but this latest move stirred the community to fight back to retain services locally.

Galway County Councillor Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised the public meeting with Senator Sean Kyne, said 625 people signed the attendance sheets and an estimated 650 people attended.

“The community effort spreading the word was unbelievable; the turnout was unbelievable,” she said.

“It wasn’t just anger; it was raw emotion in the room. Sadness. Family members spoke about the calls they got on Friday. The feeling that their elderly person was being rejected; that they weren’t being respected.

“One man stood up, three years waiting for respite care for a family member, and then to be told after a few days in there that she’d have to be taken home or to Merlin Park.

“We’re 50 miles from Galway. If there’s no traffic you might get to the outskirts in an hour but with the traffic in Galway, you could be another hour to get to Merlin Park. Not everyone has transport either and they’ve to rely on buses.

“A young woman stood up at the meeting and said her dad was dying in Galway. And she had to go to Saint Vincent de Paul to get money to pay for a B&B so that the family would be close to him when the end came. People gave their personal stories, and it was just heart-breaking.”

(Photo by Carmel Lyden: Teresa Conneely from Roundstone addresses people at the public meeting in Clifden Town Hall).

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the Clifden Hospital story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Pilgrim took to his feet to realise dream!

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Clifden man Breandan O Scanaill, who is on a pilgrimage from his home town of Clifden to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, received a Mayoral welcome and a memorial crest when he arrived at the Asturian town of Navia last week.

Breandan, whose walk from his home outside Clifden to the reputed burial place of St James in Santiago, began in April, was walking through Navia in Spain when a local man came over to chat to him.

“He asked me about my journey and was interested in the fact that an Irish man had turned up in the town,” says Breandan, who had been admiring the Chapel of San Roque at the time.

The local man outlined the history of the building and the town to Breandan and they began chatting more generally about history and architecture – topics dear to the pilgrim’s heart.

Breandán’s new friend introduced himself as the Mayor of Navia, lgnacio Garcia Palacios, who invited the visitor from Clifden to visit the Town Hall.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Local Property Tax rate to stay unchanged despite Council chief’s plea

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Councillors have agreed to keep the Local Property Tax (LPT) rate unchanged – despite pleas from management that Galway County Council is predicted to spend at least €22 million more than it brings in for the next two years.

County Chief Executive Jim Cullen had recommended an increase of 15% on the LPT rate for 2023 and 2024 – amounting to €2.1m extra in the coffers annually – which would bolster its case when it came to pleading for a greater share of funding from central government.

In an estimation of income and expenditure for the Council, taking into account “unavoidable” expenditure and income changes set to hit, the Council would run a deficit of €9.04m in 2023 and 13.2m in 2024 – well over €22m unless there was a change in finances.

“I am hopeful of an uplift in baseline [funding] levels . . . we cannot continue to ignore the fact that other councils have raised LPT and their citizens enjoy a better standard of services that in Galway,” he stressed.

He told a meeting this week that €9m would be needed to maintain services next year at the same level as 2022. This was due to significant cost increases given that inflation is reaching 9.6% currently. Pensions, gratuities and payroll increases from the national pay agreement, increments and additional staff were all adding to bigger outgoings.

Without that extra funding, it will be necessary to reduce spending by that amount with a negative impact on service and staffing levels, he said.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the story, including the councillors’ discussions, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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