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.
First pub in County Galway to be convicted over Covid breach
A County Galway publican has become the first in the county convicted of breaching Covid-19 regulations after 70 customers were found on his premises during the partial lockdown last year.
Tuam Court was told that when the Gardaí entered the premises at Tierney’s of Foxhall, there was very little social distancing – and no food being served, as was the requirement at the time.
Proprietor Tom Kelly was prosecuted for the breach of Covid-19 regulations which carries a maximum penalty of €5,000.
After Judge James Faughnan was informed that it was an extremely large premises in rural North Galway, he remarked that when so many people are allowed into a pub, no matter how big, it is extremely difficult to control them.
Prosecuting Sergeant Christy Browne explained that several months ago there had been opposition for the renewal of the publican’s licence on the grounds of alleged breaches of Covid regulations.
He said that, on August 30 last, there were 70 people on the premises, at a time during the pandemic when there was the requirement to purchase a €9 meal before being served a drink.
Sergeant Browne explained that when the premises was inspected, there was no social distancing, there was no food being served and no evidence of food receipts.
Defending solicitor Gearoid Geraghty said that his client ran a huge premises that can accommodate 227 customers and added that his customers were spread among three separate sections of the premises.
While there have been objections to the renewal of publicans’ licences by the Gardaí for breaches of the guidelines, this was the first criminal prosecution that has taken place in County Galway.
Tom Kelly with an address of Corohan, Tuam, the proprietor of Tierney’s of Foxhall, was charged with breaching a regulation to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19. It relates to an alleged breach that occurred on August 30 last year.
The same defendant had been the subject of an objection to his licence by Garda Inspector John Dunne a number of months ago. He was ordered to pay €500 towards a charity at the time.
The Inspector had opposed the renewal of the licences for what he said were breaches of Covid guidelines during the course of inspections carried out when the situation was relaxed during the course of 2020.
Galway recycling company run by Travellers fronts national campaign
A Galway company which employs Travellers to recycle mattresses and wooden furniture has been picked to front a national campaign urging the public to support their local social enterprises which are seen as crucial in the post-Covid recovery.
Bounce Back Recycling has this month also been nominated for top green company in the country.
Social enterprises are businesses that operate mainly to improve people’s lives and achieve a social or environmental impact. While they trade in goods and services like other businesses, the difference is they reinvest their profits to achieve core social objectives.
Bounce Back Recycling provides a mattress and furniture recycling service to domestic and commercial clients as well as several local authorities from its base in Ballybane.
There are currently twelve members of the Traveller community who manage and run the social enterprise, with plans to employ a further four workers as it expands.
Workers deconstruct the mattresses and furniture by hand, a labour intensive and time-consuming process.
The steel from mattresses is sold on to a local steel recycling company while the foam is sent to a UK company to make carpet underlay. The textile or covering is compressed and sent to landfill.
Manager Martin Ward explains that between 75 and 80 per cent of the mattress is recycled.
Mattresses that normally end up in the landfill only start to decompose after 15 years – elements such as polyurethane foam and steel springs can take up to 100 years and 50 years respectively to break down.
Since 2017, the company has diverted 50,000 mattresses from landfill.
“In Galway we dispose of 30,000 mattresses annually and they’re going to landfill through a waste company or are illegally dumped. We identified a gap in the market for Connacht and Ulster as there was nobody recycling mattresses here,” he reveals.
The company received funding to set up but is dependent on users to cover ongoing costs such as wages.
It started off with 3,000 items in its first year collecting from around Galway. Last year it processed 20,000 pieces, operating across ten counties, with plans to expand nationwide. They are also preparing to open a unit in Sandy Road where they will upcycle and reupholster furniture and sell directly to the public.
“We’re happy to be part of this ‘The Future is Social’ campaign by Rethink Ireland to support social enterprises which deliver so many other positive impacts for every euro spent.
“Everyone is much more aware of doing their bit for the environment and we hope to be recycling 100,000 items by 2025,” says Martin.
Bounce Back Recycling charges between €15 and €25 for a mattress and €10 for collection.
“We run a collection service and only charge one delivery fee, regardless if it’s one or ten items. We’ve a big demand in Connemara because there is no civic amenity site so people who want to do the right thing for the environment don’t have any access to a facility.”
Bounce Back Recycling has been nominated as a finalist in the Green NGO (Non Government Organisation) of the Year.
It is among 40 companies which have received money from the Social Enterprise Development Fund. Nationally they employ 500 people, mainly from minority groups, generating €22 million in turnover.
The ‘Future is social’ campaign will provide regional webinars, information and resources about social enterprises.
Headford’s plans for public park and gardens
Plans to create a new public park and gardens in the heart of Headford were unveiled this week.
Headford Community Garden and Headford Men’s Shed have submitted a proposal to the Headford Development Association to create the park on the lands adjacent to their gardens in Balrickard.
A rewilded, multi-habitat park would transform outdoor living in the town and provide a much-needed greenspace that would be accessible to all – offering a relaxing setting for all ages and abilities.
The promoters also hope that the project would act as a model for other Irish towns, with Headford becoming a leading example of how parkland and greenspace can help to revitalise rural settlements.
“This proposal for a park and gardens in Headford will create a quiet natural space in the centre of town for all to access and enjoy. It is a project that will benefit the people and the businesses of the town and surrounding areas for generations to come,” said Aengus McMahon, spokesperson for Headford Park and Gardens.
Within the park the emphasis will be on biodiversity; the planting of native trees, introduction of biodiverse meadow spaces with mown paths, walking trails, picnic and play areas.
The existing gardens and new parkland will serve as an outdoor classroom for use by local schools.
There are existing plans for Presentation College Headord’s Seomra Seoda to utilise Headford Community Garden for outdoor classes. The park will be fully inclusive and accessible to all.
The space will also include an outdoor cultural space for concerts, theatre shows and special events.
“During the Covid lockdowns, it was our walks in the rural countryside and wild landscapes that provided therapy for both mind and body,” said Brendan Smith of the Galway National Park City initiative.
“So, in a post Covid world it is important that, for the health of human society and of the planet, we integrate green and blue spaces into the fabric of our cities, towns and villages,” he added.
Recently Galway’s County Councillors unanimously supported a proposal to fund a feasibility study to examine the development potential of a cycleway and greenway from the Galway city to Headford. The park would be the perfect landing site for a future greenway.
Groups already sharing the existing garden area include Tidy Towns, environmental groups, Scouts, Headford Lace Project, Yarn Bombers, Meals on Wheels and Ability West.