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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Red tape’ stalls Barna greenway

Denise McNamara

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The Barna Greenway appears to have fallen foul of State bureaucracy after it failed to be included in the latest round of cycle and pedestrian paths to be funded by the Government.

In a parliamentary question by Galway West TD Catherine Connolly last July, Transport Minister Shane Ross replied that the greenway was proposed by the Galway Transport Strategy and implementation of that strategy was a matter for the local authorities.

Funding from his Department was available to support the rollout of projects administered by the National Transport Authority (NTA), he said, and referred Deputy Connolly’s question to them.

However, the agency replied last month that while the NTA was responsible for funding urban cycle routes in regional cities such as Galway, the funding of greenways nationally, including the Barna Greenway, is the responsibility of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Deputy Connolly then wrote to Galway City Council, asking if the project had been included in the latest budget.

In their response, a spokesperson for the Transportation Department stated that nationally all greenways were paused by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport until a national strategy was developed.

“As such, the Barna Greenway was paused and is not included in our current 2019 Annual Service Plan and we have no budget provision for same.”

The Strategy for the Future Development of National and Regional Greenways was launched back in July, 2018 which called for applications from local authorities for greenways to be built up to 2021.

The last Government announcement on greenways was in June when Minister Ross and Minister of State, Brendan Griffin, announced funding for ten greenway projects around the country under Project Ireland 2040.

Included was €2.6m for the 21km stretch of the Connemara Greenway between Clifden and Recess. There was no mention of the greenway from Barna to Salthill, through the Claddagh, onto Ravens Terrace, along the Eglinton Canal, meeting the Connemara Greenway which begins at Dangan.

Spokesman for the Galway Urban Greenway Alliance, Tiernan McCusker, said the group together with a delegation of community organisations planned to meet with the City Chief Executive Brendan McGrath to see if any progress could be made on the project.

Deputy Connolly said she was “taken aback and disappointed” to learn that no provision had been made in the 2019 budget for the Barna greenway.

“And even more alarming was the reason given by Galway City Council – that the project was paused until a national strategy was developed. That strategy had already been published in July 2018, almost six months before the budget was agreed,” she fumed.

“The Barna Greenway is a vital piece of infrastructure and the rollout of same should be a matter of priority in keeping with government policy. The City Council has to show leadership and make provision for Barna Greenway in the 2020.”

The Alliance has been organising a family cycle between the Claddagh and Salthill every month to highlight the need for a safe and segregated walking route. The next cycle takes place this Sunday morning from Claddagh Hall at 11am.

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Ring Road could open in stages

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A proposed bridge over the River Corrib as part of the Galway City Ring Road plan.

With the required additional information submitted to An Bord Pleanála by Galway County Council, the Chief Executive of the City Council said the decades-long saga of a Ring Road for Galway has crossed another significant hurdle – with the next to be a public oral hearing.

Should planning be approved for the Ring Road, Brendan McGrath said he believed it was possible to have the €650 million project completed by 2025 – and said it would be possible to open it in stages.

“One of the good things about the Ring Road is it can potentially be delivered in phases. It doesn’t have to wait for the entire road to be built for part of it to open,” he said.

Director of Services Ruth McNally said this incremental approach would be important in several projects – not just the Ring Road.

“You might look at that and think it’s very piecemeal – a bit here and a bit there. But we are conscious that the city is very busy and even the smallest intervention is going to cause traffic. That is why we are doing things incrementally in different places,” said Ms McNally.

As reported in the Galway City Tribune last week, Cosain, the Community Road Safety and Information Network, obtained documentation which revealed a predicted 37% increase in CO2 emissions as a result of the new road – a figure from the Government-approved business case for the Ring Road.

However, Mr McGrath refuted this claim, arguing that the shift to electric vehicles would reduce this figure.

“Galway Transportation Strategy, the overarching strategy, is predicated on a principle of climate sustainability. It’s about giving Galway’s streets back to its citizens and getting rid of congestion. Getting people onto high-frequency, sustainable and green public transport.

“Under the Government’s Climate Change Plan, launched a couple of months ago, it envisages there will be 900,000 electric vehicles on Ireland’s roads by the year 2030. That’s the Government’s target, so when the Ring Road is built, most of those will be electric cars,” he claimed.

“The city centre becomes a safe place to walk, to cycle – a place where you will get your bus to wherever you need. Where you don’t have to be car dependent and where the parallel works around reducing flooding, greening the city and the dividend from 2020 – I talk about transforming transport, but’s about transforming the city and how we live in the city,” he continued.

One area where works were already underway was the regeneration of the pedestrian centre, said Ms McNally.

“Phase two of Shop Street is going to be starting at the end of this month. That’s Eason’s to Lynch’s Castle. As well as that, we’ll shortly be starting an automated bollard contract as well. It will be a separate contract,” she said.

Phase two will be completed by early December, with another phase to be complete in quarter one of 2020, said Mr McGrath. The bollards will be completed at the same time, he added.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Plans progress for Traveller-specific housing in Galway City

Dara Bradley

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The halting site on Circular Road.

Plans for new Traveller-specific homes in the city will be progressed before the year’s end.

And Galway City Council is also proposing the upgrade of halting sites in Westside and Headford Road in the coming months.

Elected members will be asked to vote on a Part 8 planning application this Autumn for a new housing scheme in Doughiska. Costing €1.2 million, housing agency Respond is planning to build 23 social homes in total, with four of them earmarked as Traveller-specific.

Separately, a City Council spokesperson said more Traveller housing schemes are in the pipeline.

“Two other proposals for new Traveller schemes are being progressed in discussion with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and I would anticipate that funding approval and planning will be sought towards the end of the year with construction to commence in 2020,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the Council expects to make progress on the redevelopment of halting sites at Circular Road and Carrowbrowne.

“The planned redevelopment of the Circular Road halting site is also progressing through design stage and again will come before City councillors later this year for planning approval. No funding approval has been sought just yet. Construction will commence in 2020. Replacement of welfare units at Carrowbrowne will commence later this year and will be funded through Council’s own internal receipts,” a spokesperson said.

In relation to Carrowbrowne, the Council has invited tenders to provide 13 new welfare units at the site. “All welfare units must be robust, made of galvanised steel construction for long-life durability and must be secure with a heavy-duty walls, doors and roof and must be vandal proof. The units incorporate a kitchen with a sink, built in presses and drawers, a bathroom with a wash-hand basin, toilet and shower and a service room for plant,” the specifications state. They must also comply with current fire and safety regulations.

The Council said that other standard social housing schemes are being proposed and constructed that will include provision of standard local authority accommodation for Traveller families. Travellers are also being housed through RAS (Rental Accommodation Scheme) and HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) and in emergency accommodation.

The Council was responding to figures obtained by Galway TD Anne Rabbitte (FF) for the Galway City Tribune, which revealed the local authority was not drawing down its allocation of Traveller Accommodation Programmes (TAP) funding.

In 2016, some €40,000 was allocated and there was no draw down; in 2017, some €209,000 was allocated and there was just €95,000 drawn down; and last year some €177,000 was the allocation and none of it has been drawn down.

In response, the Council said it had received funding under TAP in recent years for fire safety works at halting sites and for the completion of extensions to Traveller homes.

“There are numerous other sources of funding for Traveller accommodation including our own revenue budget, principally for maintenance services on existing sites and schemes, and waste management,” the Council said.

The spokesperson added: “In relation to new build schemes, the principle source is through the Department of Housing. The Council have not drawn down any funds over the past number of years as the various schemes now proposed are at planning stage. Single acquisitions of individual homes are also recouped from the Department, including homes for Travellers. Houses acquired for Traveller families are no longer recouped from the Traveller Accommodation Programme fund as was the case in the past.

“The Council did not request specific funding under the Traveller Accommodation Programme for 2019 because we were advised by the Department that fire safety works at halting sites were no longer eligible under that specific fund and because funding for extensions now comes from the general allocation for such works, without reference to whether the house is occupied by a Traveller family or otherwise.”

Galway Traveller Movement said that budget underspend has been an issue every year since 2000, even though it has only received attention recently.

“The fifth Traveller Accommodation Programme will be adopted by Galway City and County Councils later this year. These programmes are five years in duration. The targets within the previous four plans have not been met and there has been continual underspend since the beginning of the first plans in 2000. There has been a lack of action for 20 years and local authorities must take responsibility for their lack of provision,” said Bridget Kelly, Deputy Co-Ordinator of GTM.

She said that two monitoring reports produced by GTM have detailed the “unacceptable lack of progress in meeting the targets” of the Traveller Accommodation Programmes in both Galway City and County.

“Sadly, as a result of this lack of implementation, members of the Traveller community, including a large population of children, are living in substandard conditions. There has not been the political will for these plans to be implemented and as a result the Traveller accommodation crisis continues to worsen. It is disingenuous for Councils to posit the blame onto the Traveller community for the lack of delivery of Traveller accommodation,” added Ms Kelly.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Redirected City Council funds lead to recruitment ban

Dara Bradley

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An unofficial embargo on staff recruitment is underway at Galway City Council – because money earmarked for more front-line workers has been diverted to deal with the local homelessness crisis and housing shortage.

All 18 city councillors voted in favour of taking some €280,000 from City Hall’s revenue budget in 2019, to put towards city homeless services.

Dermot Mahon, acting Director of Services for Housing, told elected members, in response to a query from Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind), that the cutbacks to pay for additional homeless funds would come from the “payroll sector”. He said that there would be a delay in recruiting Council staff that had been earmarked for certain areas.

“No frontline projects or services will be affected,” said Mr Mahon, whose report said the money would be sourced from “saving across the revenue budget”.

He explained that the approved budget for homeless services in the West this year was €5.822m. By July, some 91% of it (€5.2m) had been spent.

“It is envisaged that an additional €4m is required to fund homeless services to the end of 2019,” he said, adding that 90% of this extra spend was recoupable from Government.

The remaining 10% is to be paid by local authorities in the West, and €280,000 was Galway City Council’s share of that.

Cllr Niall McNelis said the City Council was spending €350,000 per month on housing homeless people in city hotels and hostels. “It’s getting worse,” he said.

Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) said families are being split up by the homeless crisis. “Women are told to go to COPE, the men go to the Fairgreen,” she said. “I know one mother who three weeks after giving birth had to change hotels. Children aren’t within schools’ catchment. That’s the reality of this,” she said.

Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) said he was aware of one family who have been living in emergency accommodation for three years.

Cllr John Connolly (FF) said the Fine Gael-led Government, which is being kept in power by his party, was completely out of touch on the issue of housing and homelessness; and he urged party leader Micheál Martin to collapse the Coalition and spark a general election.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said the Government had taken steps to rectify the problem, including introducing Rent Pressure Zones. He said many landlords are fleeing the market because it’s not worth their while once mortgages are paid and the taxman takes his share of the profits.

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