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Residents up in arms after coaches hijack former green space

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Residents of Kinvara are up in arms over the apparent hijacking of a green space by coaches – an area which had been removed as part of the work on the new sewage treatment plant.

So far 600 people have signed a petition demanding that the small area of grass be reinstated in order to prevent it from becoming an ugly unofficial car and coach park permanently.

For the last six weeks anything up to six coaches are parking in the area at the one time. The village has become a popular pit stop for tour groups, with an estimated 50 coaches a day pulling in to use toilets and wander around. Kinvara has no public toilets or dedicated coach park.

Those leading the ‘Save Kinvara Green’ campaign insist this amenity is a key part of the picturesque pier used by Galway families and tourists to have a picnic or hold stalls during the annual Cruinniu na mBád festival.

They understood the area would be temporarily tarred over to facilitate the installation of holding tanks for the new sewage treatment facility and that it would be left for up to nine months in its current state.

“Residents have been told that while it is within the contract of Coffey Construction to reinstate the green, plans are afoot to change the layout in order to facilitate additional parking facilities for coaches and cars,” according to one resident who has joined the campaign.

“Local residents are very distressed by this development and claim that the proper planning process has been ignored. The quay in Kinvara is an area of great beauty and rustic charm. Few towns in Ireland can boast such a beautiful setting.

“Kinvara Pier is a protected structure under the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and any proposal to alter its surrounds have to be scrutinised with care by both the planning authority and the community to ensure that the character of the area is not damaged.”

Local resident and Galway County Councillor Joe Byrne said he was told verbally last May by a senior council engineer that the green would be reinstated. However, when he was given a copy of the contract drawings by the end of June he could see there was no such plan to return the amenity as it was.

He understands that one option under consideration is to remove the green area in the middle but widen the parkland beside the quay.

“What’s there at present nobody wants – I certainly don’t, but that’s what in the contract. I wouldn’t be happy with that – there’s no parking control in place at all,” he stated.

“I was born on the quay myself – the green area in the middle is part of the quay’s heritage but it does cause a problem with traffic movement. There are pros and cons to each suggestion. I’m very much in discussion mode with everyone to come up with a solution which should have been addressed in a traffic management study that I’ve been calling on for a long time.

“One thing that is for sure is the quay is never going to a solution to parking in Kinvara – it’s an amenity area – but there should be a provision that if a coach does come into the quay area it should be able to get out.

“Commercial business who pay their rates are entitled to facilities that allow coaches to pull up.”

Campaigners say they acknowledge there is a need for a bus and coach park in the village with the increase in tourists on the Wild Atlantic Way.

But they argue that parking needs to be planned within a whole village context in a traffic management plan with public consultation.

“Traffic problems will not be solved by changing the attractiveness of the quay area to facilitate two-way car, camper van, minibuses and larger coach traffic and a few more parking bays.

“The original green acted like a roundabout or traffic island and made traffic slow down ensuring safety. It also limited parking and prevented buses from double-parking for drop-offs as has been witnessed in recent weeks,” said the spokesperson.

“There is a very real worry that leaving the pier in its current state for up to nine months is creating a precedent that the pier area is suitable for parking buses and cars. As a community, the residents feel that they are being put under pressure to forget about the original green space and to consider other layouts.

“We’re calling on Galway County Council to engage with the locals about this critical change to the aesthetics of our village.”

Director of Water Services and Environment at Galway County Council, Jim Cullen, said the Council had received several enquiries about the public green and had responded to them all.

“The situation is that the green space was needed temporarily as part of the works associated with the Kinvara Sewerage Scheme which is ongoing at the moment. When the scheme is finished the green area will be restored,” he stated.

The Director of Services for Roads, Liam Gavin, also insisted the green would be returned.

“There are all sorts of rumours going around about what’s to happen. I think people may be mixing up the traffic management plan which is planned for next year when the green may be considered in a different context. But that’s a separate issue for another day.

A public meeting on the issue will be held on Wednesday, August 17 at 8pm in St Joseph’s Primary School Hall.

All those interested are invited to attend.

CITY TRIBUNE

Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers

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From the Galway City Tribune – Cyclists and disability groups long campaigning for the removal of ‘kissing gates’ on popular routes were overjoyed to see the one at ‘the Swamp’ in the Claddagh removed last week.

But their joy quickly turned to anger when it was returned a few days later. They learned that it had only been taken out to facilitate a private company. Grant Thornton had organised a 5K run along the Salthill Promenade for corporate staff and sports teams.

Gráinne Faller, who organises the Sundays4Safety awareness campaigns in Salthill, said she could not believe how quickly the Council could act to remove, then replace the barrier when bike groups have been calling for their removal for years, only to be met with inaction.

“These gates lock so many people out of our parks and playgrounds. How can we justify blocking access to public spaces? They are ableist, ageist and they block people with buggies and bikes. They really discriminate against parents. And then we learn that the Council is claiming that this isn’t a problem? We wait. And wait. It is not okay. It’s Council-sanctioned discrimination.”

Chairperson of the campaign group Cyclist.ie, Neasa Bheilbigh, said the gates excluded families and people with mobility impairments from using safe active travel routes to school and public amenities.

“To suggest quiet routes through housing estates and parks are not active travel routes, shows a lack of understanding about how people move in our city,” she insisted.

She highlighted the fact that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has committed to providing funding to remove barriers to promote universal access.

“I always feel safer cycling than walking at night, but having to dismount leaves me feeling vulnerable. The Council don’t seem to grasp the needs of people who use non-standard bikes as mobility aids and who cannot dismount or have the strength to navigate through these barriers.”

Liam Ferrie from Menlo said he was long past retirement age but he found his e-bike was a great way of getting around Galway.

“Last Sunday I cycled a total of 28km without any difficulty – apart from a very close pass by a motorist. However, if I had come to a kissing gate I’d have had to turn back as there is no way I could lift the bike through it.”

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the National Ambulance Service, Reg Turner, said his family cycles along the Terryland Forest park en route to school and they have to manoeuvre a large cargo bike carrying his baby son through a kissing gate.

“My seven-year-old calls them jail gates. She says she is sick of lifting her bike and asks when are they coming to remove the gates. The crazy thing is the forest can be accessed from various other exits and entrances which don’t have these gates.”

At a Galway City Council meeting last July, City Council Director of Services for Transport, Patrick Greene, told councillors the NTA had written to Councils acknowledging that kissing gates were problematic for some users.

He said the NTA was working to come up with a new design for gates that are more accessible for users such as people on cargo bikes, pram users and people in wheelchairs, and the Council would act on any recommendations from the NTA once an alternative was sourced.

He said the City Council was planning to do an audit of all kissing gates across Galway.

Cllr Noel Larkin stated that without kissing gates, housing estates and public parks would be more accessible to vehicles and could result in antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Donal Lyons said motorbikes and other vehicles could access public parks and amenity areas if they were removed and not replaced.

(Photo: A cargo bike stuck at a kissing gates. The City Council removed one in Claddagh recently for a road race but then reinstated it).

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme

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From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has had to draw down further loans to keep up with demand for the Local Authority Home Loan Scheme.

At a meeting of the City Council, Director of Services for Housing, Brian Barrett, said they had initially sought approval from councillors for a loan of €4.1 million but such was the demand that they required a further €1.4 million.

A renewed Local Authority Home Loan was announced in December last year and provides for Government-backed mortgages for first-time buyers and ‘fresh-start’ applicants – those who are divorced or separated, or who have undergone personal insolvency or bankruptcy.

The scheme was introduced to provide lower interest rate mortgages to those who are creditworthy but would otherwise find it difficult to access sufficient finance.

Mortgages up to 90% of the value of the property are available, with a limit of €320,000 applicable to Galway. An income ceiling of €65,000 applies to single applicants, or €75,000 in the case of a joint application.

Mr Barrett said since the original scheme was launched in February 2018, 277 applications had been received by Galway City Council and 120 had been approved.

Twenty-three of those loans applied to the Tenant Purchase Scheme for local authority tenants buying-out their homes.

“In February, councillors approved a loan of €4.1 million and we need another €1.4 million . . . we require €5.5 million,” said Mr Barrett, who explained this applied to 2022 applications only.

The funding would be borrowed by the Council from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) raised the issue of joint applications in the case of parents and an adult child who wished to buy out a local authority house under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.

“There is a situation arising where a parent with a son or a daughter in the house and the parent is in their 60s. After getting approved, they go to the Housing Finance Agency and they’re told they can only get a four-year mortgage – they waste five months getting approved to be told that,” he said, explaining that money would not be loaned for a period beyond when the parent turns 70.

“That information was not relayed to the Council,” added Cllr McDonnell.

Dermot Mahon of the Council’s Housing Department said he was aware of this issue, but it was part of the scheme.

“The loan scheme specifies that the maximum age of the eldest borrower is 70,” said Mr Mahon.

Councillors agreed to increase the loan, bringing it to €5.5 million.

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CITY TRIBUNE

City councillors pack their bags for Dutch transport junket

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From the Galway City Tribune – A group of city councillors will be packing their bags for Holland in the coming weeks as part of an initiative to introduce them to revolutionary transport solutions.

A meeting of the Council heard that the National Transport Authority (NTA) was willing to fund a trip for councillors to an area similar to Galway – in order to highlight the possibilities in relation to sustainable travel.

Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed that the NTA “feel it would be beneficial for councillors to see some of the solutions implemented in other areas”.

“It would be to a town in Holland, similar in size to Galway, to see their active travel solutions,” said Mr McGrath.

There would be no cost to the City Council, he added.

The meeting heard the trip would last three days and would be open to nine councillors – half of the full Council – while two City Hall officials would accompany them.

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