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Ombudsman probes ‘nasty’ home tax bill bolt from blue

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The Office of the Ombudsman is investigating a complaint from a Galway City property owner – who has lived in the US for the past 16 years – after receiving a ‘second homes tax’ bill for more than €4,200 from the City Council.

Sarah Manning has branded the Council “gangsters” and accused them of extortion for allowing her tax liability on the house build up over five years, without informing her.

And the Irish Property Owners’ Association has described the levy as a “particularly nasty, unfair charge”, warning that many more owners of homes in Galway could be in a similar situation to Ms Manning.

The ex-pat registered her property in Knocknacarra as a rental property with the Council in 2002, but only learned of the existence of the annual €200 Non Principal Private Residence (NPPR) tax when the local authority wrote to her last week, informing her of the NPPR liabilities and that a figure of €4,220 is due.

That figure will increase to €7,230 if unpaid by the end of this month (the initial amount due would be €1,000 in total, but increases due to penalties). The charge was in place from 2009 to 2013 but has been replaced by the Local Property tax.

Despite registering her details with the Council in 2002, paying tax on rental income and paying the Local Property Tax, she was never made aware of the NPPR levy.

“Galway City Council were fully aware of my whereabouts for the last 11 years, and they allowed the delinquency to amass to over 400% more than the original charge, and opted to notify me a mere two weeks before it is increased to being over 700% beyond that original charge, and threaten that if I don’t come up with the money within two weeks, it will be a lien recorded against my property until paid in full.

“Who, other than gangsters does this? This is extortion, pure and simple. Is this all some nefarious trap for the unwary to raise more money for local councils and the Irish Government by those misfortunate enough like myself to be living overseas from 2009-14 who were totally unaware that this tax was imposed and allowed go into delinquency status, accumulating interest at the rate of 10% per month, and thus slowly eating away at the equity in my property there?” Ms Manning wrote to the Ombudsman.

The Council has pointed out that since the NPPR tax is a self-assessment charge, no invoices or notices are issued.

“We’re not sending out bills, we’re bringing it to the attention of property owners that they may be liable for the NPPR and what the liability is. There [was] no obligation on the Council to inform people,” a spokesperson said.

Read more in this week’s Connacht Sentinel

CITY TRIBUNE

Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill

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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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council

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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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners

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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

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