Student accommodation included in a masterplan for the future of Nuns’ Island – which has already raised concerns among local residents – would probably be aimed at mature post graduates, some of them with families.
Galway City councillors were told last week that the vision document for the 15-acre community is in its early stages, and its drivers (NUI Galway, in consultation with the City Council) are merely in a ‘listening mode’.
Assistant Director at the university’s Buildings and Estates section, Brian Saunders, told councillors that everything put forward in the plan was just a proposal at this stage and that local residents and stakeholders were being consulted on all aspects.
The masterplan, which was first mooted in 2017, was been presented to the public at a two-day event in the college’s O’Donoghue Theatre last month, and previously at another public function in the Portershed.
Mr Saunders told this week’s Council meeting that two meetings, – one attended by 60 people – had already been held with local residents, as well as other meetings with the local fisheries interests, the arts and culture communities, the Galway Diocese, the Poor Clares, St Joseph’s School (the Bish), as well as owners of other properties in the vicinity.
The university owns seven buildings in the area, as well as Fisheries Field, the site of the Galway International Arts Festival’s Big Top (which Mr Saunders assured would be facilitated) while the Council owns the Nun’s Island Arts Centre, formerly a church.
The masterplan would see the education interests of the college as well as a possible cultural hub, public parks and possibly even a boutique hotel, being realised.
Mr Saunders stressed that the education aspects would concentrate on fourth level such as start-up enterprises involving post-graduates, many of them with young families and that it would be they who would be accommodated in any future residences.
That building is currently earmarked on the site of the Bish, which has its own plans to move to Dangan.
Despite opinions from some councillors that there is enough student accommodation in the city, Mr Saunders told them that there was in fact a deficit of 2,000 beds for third level students.
“It would be students of a different type of accommodation here and this may or may not be a feature of the plan. It would not be the first year partying type of students.
“We have ensured that our own on campus student accommodation blocks have been well managed and there hasn’t been any complaints about Corrib Village in the recent past as far as I know,” he added.
Cllr Colette Connolly (Ind) said she believed the local residents had not been “too enamoured about NUI Galway developing the area”.
“We have no visions ourselves in the Council for our city. I never supported private individual developers coming in with a masterplan and now here’s NUIG coming in,” adding she was surprised the college was not concentrating on promoting education rather than development.
“I am horrified that the overriding factor will be an economic one. Residents are worried about the student accommodation factor as it could be turned into Airbnbs in the summer months,” she added, saying she had concerns about the whole plan.
The college has employed Colliers International, a global development solutions company which has designed other inner-city neighbourhoods all over the world, including the Docklands area in Cork.
Roger Hobkinson, one of its directors, previously described Nuns’ Island as “enchanting” and assured that whatever way it was developed, it would not lose its character or its historic features.
However, he added, they did want to make the area more accessible and more sustainable to help elevate the city as a better place to live.
“This (regeneration) would play a massive role in boosting a quality of life both for residents and for businesses. I would see this waterways district as an ideal location for small indigenous companies with links to the university. This is the start of a discussion on this vision document and following a public consultation, the report should be completed by the end of the year,” he said.
He also pointed out that the timing was good, as the Government had earmarked €4 billion to be spent nationally in the next eight years on urban regeneration projects just like the one proposed for Nuns’ Island. There is a further €2 billion to be spent nationally by the Urban Regeneration Development Fund as well as €300 million by Fáilte Ireland.
Mr Saunders told the meeting that the first application for public funds under the Regional Development Fund had been successful, but he could not give a costing for the project, as it was still in the early stages.
Included in the masterplan are pedestrian bridges, one of them probably alongside the Salmon Weir Bridge, a project that has been on the cards for about 15 years.
Over 100 years ago, Nuns’ Island was the industrial heartland of the city. There were two flour mills, a granite works, a brewery and malt house, a fever hospital, a prison, a ladies’ school, a seminary, a convent, a Presbyterian church, two lodging houses and an asylum — as well as a number of private residences.
In recent years, many of the private residences have been bought up and renovated.
Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill
Residents, businesses and visitors to Salthill have been encouraged to take part in a survey being carried out by the City Council as part of a parking management study.
The study – funded by the National Transport Authority – will explore active travel (walking, cycling) measures along the Prom and will make recommendations on the regulation of parking in the Salthill area.
The Village Salthill group – which represents businesses in that area – have asked everyone to participate in the survey to ensure that the interests of all sectors are considered.
Pete Kelly, spokesperson for Village Salthill, told the Galway City Tribune that they wanted to approach the issue in a reasoned way – starting with participation in the survey.
“We will be engaging with the City Council, and the councillors, in a constructive manner on the whole parking issue but the vital thing for people to do now is to take part in the survey.
“Last year’s summer tourist season was largely rescued by the numbers of family groups who visited the resort and they are people who in the main use their cars to get here.
“We are also looking a population base of around 20,000 people in the Knocknacarra area who would be interested in looking at a better way of life in terms of movement and greater use of public transport,” said Mr Kelly.
Local councillor, Donal Lyons, told the Galway City Tribune that there were many different views to be taken into account as regards parking and traffic management in the Salthill area.
“I am appealing to residents of the Salthill and overall area to respond to this survey and to make their views known. Sometimes, surveys like this, can be dominated by lobby groups. Make sure as locals to have your say,” said Cllr Lyons.
Jimmy Callan, Acting Senior Engineer with the Council said that while the character of Salthill had changed over time, the area still retained its distinctive character and amenity value.
“The purpose of this parking study is to establish a relationship between how people are using Salthill, and where they choose to park.
“Previous public consultation in relation to Covid measures in summer 2020 showed that there is a strong demand to look at how travel and parking is managed in Salthill in the longer term,” said Mr Callan.
Submissions can be made at activetravelgalway.ie and the deadline is Saturday, July 10.
Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council
Eir has sought permission to retain a concrete foundation it constructed for a mast at Drom Oir in Knocknacarra – a site where the communications company was forced to abandon works in April after the Council deemed it an unauthorised development.
The telecoms company is also seeking permission for the installation of a mast 12 metres in height, carrying an antenna, as well as ‘ground-based equipment cabinets and all associated site development works for wireless data and broadband services’.
Residents opposed to the structure have citied serious concerns over the potential visual impact of the mast, as well as the impact it may have on the values of their properties.
In the application, it is stated that the structure will be coloured in a galvanised finish, assimilating with ‘the typical sky colour in Ireland and surrounding built form’, but says it will be possible to use a green paint finish which could be requested by way of a conditional grant of planning permission.
“The proposed height, colour and design represent the best compromise between the visual impact of the proposal on the surrounding area and meeting the technical requirements of the site.
“Taking all matters into account, it is considered that this proposal which is to provide new 3G (data) and 4G (high speed data) broadband services, for Eir Mobile and a second operator on a single structure as opposed to having eventually two separate structures in this area, would not be discordant within the local environment.”
The application argues that the proposed development benefits from an existing wall (which partially screens it from the housing estate), a line of vegetation, semi-mature and mature trees along both sides of the Western Distributor Road, which will help to screen the site from this direction.
The structure is described as ‘an attractive pole’ that will blend with the area and give significant benefits by providing the ‘most up-to-date wireless broadband and data services.
Eir notes that it is aware of its requirements in relation to management of electromagnetic field radiation and states it is ‘committed to management of risk to our employees, members of the public and any other groups who may be affected by our networks’.
It states that all their radio base stations are ‘safe by design’ to meet international health and safety standards and best practice.
In a submission to Galway City Council, Leitir Búrca residents Oran Morris and Rebekah D’Arcy have objected to the proposal on grounds including that there are deficiencies in the application; that the mast is in close proximity to residents; and that the development will devalue property.
They contest the assertion that the mast will ‘improve coverage in the surrounding rural area’. “The predicted improvements to coverage do not include a single third class road. This justification is clearly for a rural area and not applicable to Galway City.”
They state that the proposed location of the mast is at the heart of a residential area, within 100 metres of 52 houses, with the closest at 51 Drom Oir which is just 29 metres away.
This, they argue, is in contravention of the City Development Plan, which states “only when a number of other possibilities have been exhausted, masts may be erected within or in the immediate vicinity of residential areas”.
They stress that the structure is unlike any other structure along the Western Distributor Road and will be out of character and visually obtrusive.
“The proposed development would be in direct line of sight from every front-facing window in our property, which is located 52m away . . . this is also true for numerous other properties in Leitir Búrca.
“These factors combined would undoubtedly decrease the value of our property. We retained the services of two separate registered auctioneers to value our property and estimate the devaluation due to the mast. Both reports estimated the devaluation to be between €90,000 and €100,000,” they state.
‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners
Galway City Council has turned down scaled-back plans for a 10-storey hotel at Galway Docks, branding it “excessive”.
Last September, Summix BNM Developments lodged a planning application with the Council for a three-storey to eleven-storey hotel (with a rooftop bar and function area) on site of the former Bord na Mona coal yard at the Docks.
The plans also included a restaurant, coffee bar and terraces.
However, the Council sent the company back to the drawing board and told it to revisit the overall scale, height, massing and intensity of the development, but said that the architectural quality of the proposed building is of a good standard.
Planners said there would be a “resultant overbearing expression” onto the Forthill Cemetery and the Long Walk ACA (Architectural Conservation Area). They sought a detailed assessment of the visual impacts on the graveyard.
The Council said that with a height of 38m and length of 70m-90m facing Bóthar na Long and Forthill Cemetery, the building “is not considered to assimilate well; lacks integration with the existing urban form; fails to achieve the visions and aspirations of the Galway City Development Plan . . . detracting from the character and setting of the area”.
The developers came back with scaled-back plans – they reduced the scheme to a maximum of 10 storeys (a height reduction of three metres) and the number of bedrooms reduced from 186 to 174 on the 0.55-acre site.
In its decision to refuse planning permission, the Council said the excessive density, scale and height on a very constrained site would represent overdevelopment of the site and would have a detrimental impact on the character and setting of Forthill Cemetery.
“The development does not adhere to the principles of good urban design set out in the Galway City Development Plan and in this regard, it is considered to lack the capacity for integration with the existing urban form, contribute positively to street enclosure and fails to sympathetically assimilate with Galway’s townscape,” the decision reads.
A submission from the Harbour Hotel – located opposite the site – welcomed the redevelopment of the vacant site but said the build and massing of the building would create “a visually dominant feature on this prominent corner location which will have an overbearing impact on the street scene and Forthill Cemetery”.
It added that the height would have a detrimental impact on the existing built and natural heritage of the area.
The submission also noted there were no carparking spaces provided in the plans, and there is a shortage of spaces in the city centre.
The Harbour Hotel submission claimed that the additional bedrooms would result in an overconcentration of tourism accommodation and an “excessively transient” population in the vicinity of the site.
City Council Heritage Officer, Dr Jim Higgins, said in his view the site should not be developed as the possibility of fort-related archaeology being present there is high.
He said that in the 1960s, a well was found on the CIE side of the site, close to the boundary wall.
According to the planning application, demand for hotel rooms in Galway will exceed “pre-Covid” levels by 2023.
“Provision of hotel accommodation at this location will enhance overall visitor experience on offer in the city, with convenient access to a broad range of attractions, as well as present a major new opportunity to capture a proportion of the spend generated by visitors to the area in a part of Galway City that has been in decline for many years,” the application reads.
Summix – which is headed by British technology entrepreneurs Shukri Shammas and Tareq Naqib – has already partnered with Galway developer Gerry Barrett on the approved plans for 360 student bed spaces on a site at Queen Street, behind Bonham Quay.
They have also partnered on the recently-approved €320m regeneration proposal at Ceannt Station called ‘Augustine Hill’, which includes homes, a new shopping precinct with four public squares, a multiplex cinema and eleven streets linking the city centre with the Docks and Lough Atalia.
Image: An architect’s impression of the hotel (with red facade) alongside the Bonham Quay development