A Galway City planning dispute could be tied up in legal knots for several more months, after the High Court referred the case to Europe.
The High Court has referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union key questions on the issues of costs in the judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant permission to build 102 units on the former Par 3 golf course at Rosshill.
Under the Strategic Housing Development process, An Bórd Pleanála had granted planning permission to Alber Developments Limited for 102 units on the site in Rosshill, which is located close to two European protected sites (Galway Bay Special Area of Conservation and Inner Galway Bay Special Protection Area) and the nearby Roscam Folly.
The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign appealed this decision by way of judicial review to the High Court.
It argued several grounds, including environmental, and that the decision was invalid because it contravened the Development Plan and was contrary to various planning policies including Irish and EU law.
As part of the judicial review, Save Roscam Peninsula applied for ‘costs protections’ under EU law. An Bórd Pleanála accepted this for some of the grounds but not others.
The local objectors argued that the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), an independent arbitrator, should consider the issue of cost protection and the High Court judge agreed.
The matter has been before the courts on several occasions since December.
The High Court has now referred the question of costs relating to the interpretation of European law principles to the CJEU along with other cases that raise similar issues.
“It speaks to an uncertainty in the rules on costs in environmental cases that can partly be put down to the creativity of applicants and to a lack of clarity the legislative scheme but also partly to some inconsistencies in caselaw, despite considerable effort at all levels,” the High Court judge said.
Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said he “can’t pretend to be able to deliver an end to that confusion by means of the present judgment” but suggested that the Supreme Court should be asked to deal with the issue of protective costs on domestic law, and the CJEU should be asked to decide on legal costs relating to EU law.
The referral of the questions of protection of costs could take up to 15 months or more to be adjudicated on in Luxembourg.
It is understood that the High Court judicial review must await the outcome of that process before it hears the substantive arguments.
The stay on the grant of planning permission remains until the judicial review concludes, meaning the development will be delayed.
Galway City Council has made submissions on the case, the High Court judgement confirmed.
In a recent submission to the Draft City Development Plan 2023-2029, Alber Developments Limited sought the removal of the environmental sensitivities’ designation on the site and the rezoning of the lands for the construction of more than 700 units.
Meanwhile, in its submission to the plan, the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) told the City Council to review its approach to Low Density Residential zoning and to omit previously zoned areas on the Roscam Peninsula.
Pedestrians and cyclists ‘do not trust traffic lights’
Cyclists and pedestrians can no longer trust traffic lights in Galway City because motorists continue to drive through on red, a local senator has said.
Senator Pauline O’Reilly told a Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting that enforcement was needed to change the behaviour of drivers who were driving through red traffic lights.
The Green Party senator said that the traffic light at the Aldi junction in Westside, along the Seamus Quirke Road (pictured), was well known for motorists driving through on red lights.
Cyclists and pedestrian had no confidence or trust that motorists would stop at red lights, she said.
Councillor Frank Fahy (FG), a taxi driver, agreed and said that motorists were not just travelling through lights that were amber or turning red, they were speeding up and going through red lights seconds after they had turned red, he said.
He said that the former Headford Road roundabout junction with the Quincentenary Bridge was particularly bad for that type of dangerous behaviour.
Tommy Flaherty, community member of the JPC, again asked if CCTV technology could be used at certain junctions to detect motorists driving through red lights.
He said if the JPC and Gardaí gave the green light for this technology, it would deter those skipping red lights.
There were 52 incidents of drivers failing to stop at traffic lights up to the end of May. It represented no change on the same period last year.
Speeding offences had increased by 4% to 2,129 during that period, and there were 319 parking offences, up 8%.
There were 17 pedal cycle offences up to the end of May, compared with 26 during the same period last year.
Private security for Galway hospitals cost €34,000 per week
The HSE has confirmed it is now using in-house security again at Galway University Hospitals after it was confirmed it was spending €34,000 on average per week on private security guards.
More than €4m was spent on private security companies at University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park in the past two and a half years.
That includes €1.7m in 2020; €1.9m in 2021; and more than €800,000 this year up to the end of May.
Among the services offered by the private security guards was “close supervision of patients where required”.
The security guards were on duty at the main entrance to the public hospital at UHG, as well as in the Emergency Department.
They security companies provided services such as static officers, key holding, CCTV and alarm monitoring, mobile patrols on hospital grounds, and production of staff ID badges.
Ann Cosgrove, Chief Operations Officer of Saolta University Healthcare Group – which operates UHG and Merlin Park – said the company’s current contract was in its third year and there was an option to extend it for a further 12 months.
She said that there was a greater need for security at UHG but the figures also included Merlin Park.
County Councillor Daithí Ó Cualáin (FF) said on average the two hospitals were spending €34,000 on security per week.
He wondered whether they were trained and whether it was appropriate for security guards to be supervising patients.
Cllr Ó Cualáin said it might be cheaper and more appropriate to hire in-house security rather than to contract it out.
Ms Cosgrove said that the service provided was 24/7. She said that security guards are “not the first port of call” if a patient needs restraint – healthcare assistants would deal with those situations in the first instance. They were trained, however.
She confirmed that Saolta had hired about 14 full-time security guards for GUH in the past six to eight months to supplement the private security companies.
The savings made from these posts would be reviewed before a new contract for private security was tendered, she said.
‘Nitelink’ type service would be considered under review of Galway’s bus network
The National Transport Authority will consider a nighttime bus service as part of a review of bus services in Galway – branded the city “with the greatest transport problems” by the Minister for Transport.
Hugh Creegan, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Transport Authority (NTA), has confirmed that separate reviews will be carried out this year on the Galway bus network and also the Galway Transport Strategy.
“The public consultation process in respect of the Galway Bus Network Review will be undertaken separately from, and in advance of, any consultation associated with the planned review of the Galway Transport Strategy,” said Mr Creegan.
Galway West TD Mairéad Farrell said: “Galway is crying out for expanded bus services, particularly a night service.
“The people of Galway deserve a safe, affordable public transport option at night. People are coming and going from work, going home after a meal or a night out.
“The past year we have had a national conversation about women’s safety in public, and one thing that I have heard from women is that they feel unsafe getting around the city at night. Walking alone can be very intimidating and taxis are not always an option for everyone.
“A regular night bus service would alleviate this anxiety. It would also give an affordable option to those working in the night life sector.
“We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, and the price of fuel is a major contributor to that – people need real alternatives to using their car for every journey.
“We have seen bus services expanded in Dublin, with additional night routes being added. This commitment to providing a decent public transport service must be extended to the West.
“If we are ever going to start to tackle the climate crisis and the notorious traffic problems, we need to drastically improve the bus service in Galway, and give people a reliable, affordable, and frequent bus service,” the Sinn Féin TD said.
It comes as Minister Eamon Ryan again acknowledged the dire traffic situation in the city.
In the Dáil last week, Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív in the Dáil asked the Minister why the Transport Strategy was going to be reviewed before it was even implemented.
The programme for Government commits to implementing the Galway transport strategy, which was published as recently as 2016. My understanding is that the Minister has organised a review of this strategy before it is even implemented.
“Can the Minister outline why it was imperative that we would have a review of a strategy that was of recent gestation? Is the implementation of the existing strategy put on hold while we review this strategy and when will the review be completed?” asked the Fianna Fáil TD.
Those reviews are an ordinary statutory process. Those strategies tend to be reviewed every four years. That is a normal occurrence and it does not put on hold any existing plans within existing strategy. It is a normal process of assessing the latest information, including the census and other data material. I was in Galway recently to meet the local county council and city council.
“There is a recognition that of all our five cities, Galway is the one with the greatest transport problems and the greatest urgency. One of the things I said to Galway City Council was that it needs to come back on this and that we need acceleration projects that we can deliver in the next three years.
“Whatever about the big projects and long-term futures, the here and now is what is important to Galway. Advancing such things as BusConnects, active travel and other projects which we can deliver in a three-year time period is what I am keen to really push,” the Minister said.
Separately, Minister of State at the Department of Transport and Galway West TD, Hildegarde Naughton (FG), was told by constituency colleague Catherine Connolly (Ind) that she had “absolutely no confidence” that the NTA would carry out a feasibility study for light rail in Galway.
“The Minister of State will know that Galway is going under with traffic. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the country which is thriving in terms of employment but it is absolutely bogged down in traffic.
“There is no sense of urgency with the NTA. Absolutely none. It is 2022 and it is slowly looking at Park & Ride on one side of the city when in 2005 the elected members voted to roll out Park & Ride.
“A climate emergency was declared years ago now and then there is biodiversity yet we are still looking at unsustainable levels of traffic in Galway and no bold measures. I have absolutely no confidence that the NTA will carry out a feasibility study for light rail because it is clearly on record as saying that it will not suit Galway. Some 22,000 people signed a petition imploring the then-Minister to carry out a feasibility study.
“We cannot blame motorists if we do not offer them alternatives. We must lift the traffic off the road. I am a cyclist but we are getting bogged down in minutiae of small cycling, little stretches, without looking at the overall plan of a sustainable city with sustainable transport. People will move if we provide that,” said Deputy Connolly.
Minister Naughton said she shared the frustration about the progress on public transport options in Galway and that the NTA would present a strategy on Park & Ride to the city and county councils in July.