Local volunteers with the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) are warning that high interest moneylenders are ‘as active as ever’ in communities across Galway.
The society is urging anyone who is struggling – particularly with fuel and food this Christmas – to avoid getting into debt and reach out to the organisation if they need help.
“Using moneylenders is a practice SVP advises people to avoid if they can,” said a spokesman for the charity in Galway.
“Our members in Galway say that moneylenders are as active as ever. However, there are fewer families being helped by SVP who are using moneylenders.”
The charity recommends that families check out the Personal Micro-Credit (PMC) scheme which was specifically designed as an alternative to moneylenders and is offered to social welfare recipients and low-income households.
Also known as ‘It Makes Sense’ loans, they allow people to repay through the Household Budget Scheme administered by An Post or by a direct debit, building up their credit rating and giving access to more affordable credit.
If somebody takes out a €500 “It Makes Sense” loan, repaid over six months with an APR of 12.68% they will be charged interest of €15.84.
The same loan from a licensed moneylender at a rate of 187.2% APR – a very common rate for so-called ‘doorstep loans’ – will command €150 in interest.
“Many of the families we visit will struggle to make ends meet this Christmas and some will consider borrowing money to meet the extra expenses they face at this time of year,” SVP national president Kieran Stafford said.
“Being able to access affordable credit, rather than loans with extremely high interest rates is essential if families are to avoid becoming over-indebted.”
The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) also urged people to shun high interest moneylenders at all costs.
“Should they need to borrow, they should speak to their credit unions in the first instance where Christmas loans are straightforward, interest rates are capped by law and credit unions will work with their members to structure repayments in a way that suits their individual circumstances,” spokeswoman Lonán Paul of the Irish League of Credit Unions told the Galway City Tribune.
She stressed that 15 credit unions across Galway (including four in the city) are involved in the PMC scheme, which currently has 6,000 live loans.
“The long-term aim of the PMC is to graduate borrowers on the PMC to standard lending and ultimately to financial health and independence. Applicants for the loan do not already have to be members of the credit union once they live or work in the area.
“Loans issued under the scheme can be for any purpose. Credit unions exist solely to meet their members’ needs – they are not for profit institutions – and always stand ready and willing to offer affordable credit – with loans at reasonable rates, capped by law, unlike moneylenders.”
This week Retail Ireland predicted that Irish households will spend an average of €2,690 this Christmas, which is a 3% increase on the average spend last year and €866 more than any other month of the year.
Community volunteers out in force for planathons on banks of Lough Atalia
Student volunteers and community activists were out in force throughout the month of December to push back against the climate crisis – taking part in a series of ‘plantathons’ on the banks of Lough Atalia.
Planting bulbs and trees, the programme was led by Galway Community College which owns the lands involved – and aims to rewild another portion of the city, following in the footsteps of Terryland Forest Park.
While a much smaller area by size, those behind the initiative say it shows what’s possible when the community comes together.
Supported by the National Park City initiative, the creation of this woods and wildflower meadow on what were, until now pasture lands, also had the backing of several other voluntary organisation in the city as well as Scoil Chaitríona Senior, Dominican College Taylor’s Hill, Galway Education Centre and Galway Science and Technology Festival.
With the bulbs provided by the Newcastle-based multinational Aerogen, Convenor of the Galway National Park City Brendan Smith said the project epitomised how the initiative brings interested parties together to do good.
He said efforts such as those on Lough Atalia showed the determination of young people and locals to continue the great work of those who carried out the very first plantathon in Terryland almost 22 years ago.
Those efforts were required now more than ever as the impact of the climate emergency was being acutely felt.
“The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs.
“Storm Barra was the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. But one key way to tackle the climate emergency is to plant trees – and lots of them. The Irish Government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually.
“This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity loss,” says Brendan.
“One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970.
“A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, fungi and fauna.
“Planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.”
City’s newest Salmon Weir crossing will be in place before end of year
Galway city’s newest pedestrian bridge – costing €5m – is expected to be installed before December of this year.
The new cycle and pedestrian bridge over the Lower River Corrib will be located 25 metres downstream of the existing Salmon Weir Bridge.
An Bórd Pleanála granted planning permission for the bridge last August, and work is expected to begin on the project in the coming months.
Galway City Council, in conjunction with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), North Western Regional Assembly and the National Transport Authority, has sought tenders from contractors to carry out the work.
The City Council is co-funding the project under ERDF with matched funding from the NTA.
The project must be completed by November 30, 2022, to comply with EU funding drawdown.
In the planning application, the City Council said 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists who currently use the Salmon Weir Bridge would use the new bridge once it’s opened.
The bridge will link Gaol Road to Newtownsmith. The scheme includes three span pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Lower River Corrib (main channel), Mill Race (Persse’s Distillery River) and Waterside Canal (Friar’s River).
The vision is that it would facilitate the BusConnects project, which will use the existing bridge, and also open up opportunities for a civic plaza at the Council owned car park at Galway Cathedral.
According to the tender documents, the “bridge substructure will be reinforced concrete construction, founded on sleeved reinforced concrete bored cast in place piles at the abutments and spread footings founded on and anchored to rock at the piers”.
Traffic management will need to be put in place during works and due to the environmentally sensitive site location “no temporary or permanent works will be permitted to be undertaken from the watercourses”.
Contractors have until January 21 to respond to the competition.
CPO could trigger major development of housing
Just one submission has been received in relation to a Compulsory Purchase Order on a section of a hugely busy rat run between the Tuam and Headford Roads that could open up a large tranche of land for development if approved.
Galway City Council has applied to An Bord Pleanála to compulsorily purchase over 500 metres of land along Bother an Chóiste in Castlegar adjacent to land it already owns where a previous application to build 48 homes failed due to the width of the road around 2007.
That land is on the same side of the road as the Cluain Riocaird estate. There is another privately-owned land bank of over six hectares on the other side of Bothar an Chóiste also zoned residential that could accommodate up on 400 units which would also benefit from the road widening.
No application has been lodged for that development, but any approval would be dependent on an upgrade of the road which is widely used by motorists to avoid tailbacks at the two busiest traffic junctions in the city.
A spokesman for the Council told the Galway City Tribune that the purpose of the CPO is not to upgrade the through road between the Headford Road and the Tuam Road but to facilitate access to a parcel of its own land for housing development.
“The land take is not designed to be a transport measure. Bothar an Chóiste is not intended to serve as anything other than an access and egress point for local residents. The extent that we’re upgrading is the extent of residentially zoned land,” he stated.
One valid submission was received by the end of December deadline and has been forwarded by the board to the Council for consideration.
If the CPO is approved by an Bord Pleanála, the Council would prepare a design for housing and the road widening and seek funding from the Department of Housing. It would also be obliged to seek approval from Galway City Councillors for a part 8 development.
An application to build 74 homes a short distance away on the school Road was turned down by An Bord Pleanála after being rejected by the Council which had asked the developer, Altitude Distribution, to increase the housing density. The appeals board found the development would constitute a traffic hazard due to the width of the road and shortcomings with the layout because of site constraints.
A Bothar an Chóiste resident told the Galway City Tribune there were no details of what measures would be implemented to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on what was already a highly-trafficked road.
“From a road safety stand point, marginally widening the road will only add to the already endemic ‘rat run’ culture as cars will be have a straighter road on which they can travel faster, with more danger for pedestrians, cyclists, families with buggies and small children getting to and from housing units to local shops, the Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, schools and other amenities,” she predicted.
“Making this road easier for cars to travel by widening means that even bigger, heavier vehicles that currently avoid it as it is narrow and bendy will make it even more detrimental to vulnerable road users.
“Housing units are welcome, but these builds should have the essential services and safe interconnected infrastructure for most vulnerable road users at the heart of the road widening proposals. It’s counter-productive to propose road widening without thoughtful footpaths and cyclepaths that will further lock local residents into car culture.”
The Council spokesperson said the design would facilitate pedestrian movements and public lighting to encourage active travel.
An Bord Pleanála is scheduled to hand down its decision by May.