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Tackle Galway’s congestion by building city houses



Ever-growing congestion on Galway City’s roads over recent years has led many commentators to argue strongly for more new construction – to advocate an increase in the capacity on city roads commuter routes and for an N6 Outer Bypass, the latter again with An Bord Pleanála.


The bypass was the option first advocated by Buchanan & Partners more than 20 years ago, until a judgement in the European Courts of Justice in 2015 put a halt to that particular whizz of a plan.

Unfortunately for Irish taxpayers, the promoters of this ‘roads-based solution’ did not heed the warning signs.

So even now, ‘the let’s just have more roads as a solution’ lobby are again pushing for a new alternative, which is to be an expensive €650m, now so-called Inner Ring Road, which has again been submitted for consideration by the now under-resourced Planning Board!

This environmentally and socially damaging project simply cannot be justified, with 35% of car traffic actually crossing the river, only 3% of that traffic wanting to bypass the city.

Yet I do believe that our main commuter routes do need upgrading. It is unarguable that the N59, N83, R339 and R338 – which carry so much traffic into the city from county areas – have not been upgraded in years!

However, we need to remember that the Paris Agreement on climate change now has legal effect.

Then, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published an alarming special report, it came with both good news and bad for Galway. The good news is that the carbon budget for staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is larger than we thought, so we have a bit more time to act. The bad news is that the consequences of overshooting that threshold are very, very bad.

The catastrophes that we once believed would be triggered by only 2 degrees of warming are likely to occur at this lower threshold, including widespread collapse of food yields and extreme levels of human displacement.

For example, people may soon have to be moved away from living in areas such as in Galway City that are likely to flood. We can all remember the trauma caused to farming families and city residents from the flooding in November 2009, in January 2014, November 2015 and again in February 2018.

The design, construction and management of roads, parking and other related facilities as well as the design and regulation of vehicles is known to cause significant damage to forests, prairies, streams and wetlands.

Besides the direct habitat loss due to the road itself, and the road-kill of animal species, roads alter water-flow patterns, increase noise, water, and air pollution, and create disturbance that alters the species composition of nearby vegetation, thereby reducing habitat for local native animals, and act as barriers to animal movements.

In the case of the N6 Ring Road, it would mean the displacement of 44 families from their homes with a further 10 houses rendered uninhabitable, as well as the demolition of two industrial properties and the loss of two industrial complexes.

Yet the roads transport lobby, which accounts for in excess of 19.8% of this pollution, presses on with more of their unsustainable plans.

Some would argue that the building of another new motorway will have the effect of promoting more car use, not less. This will be Galway’s continuing contribution to species extinction, and exacerbates our own contribution to climate change.

Unfortunately, the number of cars using a spiders web of commuter routes into the city is ultimately proportional to the capacity of the network. Building yet more roads simply makes it possible for more cars to be poured into any chosen route, which itself encourages more people to live in less expensive locations outside of Galway City, but from where a daily commute is required. Eventually, when capacity is reached, people will just start clamouring again for yet more new roads (the M50 effect).

This intensity of car use has been building in Galway since the early 80s, when the last new bridge was built crossing the River Corrib, (the 1985 Quincentenary Bridge).

The populations of large towns in counties within an hour’s drive of Galway have also increased far more rapidly over the past two decades than in almost any other, with yet more external population growth predicted before 2040, we are told.

The only sustainable long-term solution to congestion, and to reduce use of cars, is for people to live close enough to their place of work that they can either walk, cycle or avail of high-frequency public transport.

Yet the IDA seem powerless to promote enough new industry into county areas, and Galway city centre itself has seen very few houses built in recent times, as compared to those larger numbers being constructed in all areas out into the county.

In large peripheral areas such as we have in county Galway where housing is highly dispersed, it is simply not possible to effectively locate employment to facilitate shorter commutes. The only viable solution is to concentrate new housing nearer to growing business centres, hence in Galway City we are to have workers living in Ardaun, perhaps servicing Parkmore. But when construction is actually going to begin there, no one yet knows?

There is still plenty of vacant land available within Galway City itself. I was told in 2014 that undeveloped land zoned for residential use in the Galway City Development Plan 2011-2017 is c299 hectares (739 acres), but for various reasons it has never been made available for construction.

Landowners and developers frequently argue, with little justification that high costs mean it is not possible to service land, build according to strict conditions and still provide affordable homes of the type that families want to live in. In the meantime, it has remained viable to service land and construct homes in more distant locations – but only as long as the State continues to foot the bill for the enhanced road network that makes living in out of the way areas feasible.

Then, as we are constantly being told by opponents of light rail, a Gluas-type tram transit in Galway is unachievable, whereas all over Europe governments have learned that ‘higher density’ housing makes tram systems economically viable. As the premium now being charged on houses built near the Luas in Dublin clearly shows.

The luckless N6 Ring Road application is again submitted to An Bord Pleanala. Meanwhile Ceannt Station, the harbour lands and at Dyke Road sites are all listed for regeneration, each having been subject to much speculation since 2002, when potential for port relocation first became news.

Brendan McGrath, City Council Chief Executive, recently said when talking about the appointment of consultants to draw up a ‘Public Realm Strategy’. Much will depend on the outcome of plans to extend the Port and the development of the N6 Ring Road, as the bypass is now called.

We are left to wonder when we will see more of the housing the city needs actually built? The Government’s new National Regeneration and Development Agency (NRDA) and even newer LDA, Land Development Agency, are already sniffing around the city with the notion of buying lands for housing on public lands.

The current congestion problems being experienced in Galway are what results when the State leaves the development of homes to the private market. While the Government is left to take care of funding the building of roads to service them, the costs to the State have just been shifted from the left pocket to the right, while the long-term commuting problems of all who live in scattered development have multiplied.

The State’s new Land Development Agency should intervene, to allow more people live within the newly extended ‘Galway Metropolitan Area’, which is being extended to include Barna and Oranmore.

Perhaps use regeneration lands available at Ceannt Station as well as on Galway Port’s underutilised lands, instead of forcing workers into unsustainable commutes, with many workers still having to drive in from surrounding counties.

The funding for subsidies to construct housing, to improve public transport such as providing Light Rail or, to provide better public transport services to activate potential building land, could easily be provided by diverting the vast sums of money that would otherwise be spent on building and maintaining this environmentally damaging, additional N6 Ring Road space.

This I believe is the most sustainable solution, and one that in the long term will give the best quality of life option for the largest number of people living in Galway.

■ Derrick Hambleton is Chairman of An Taisce – Galway and wrote this article in a personal capacity.


Galway City Council Chief asked to intervene after Kirwan junction ‘near misses’



From the Galway City Tribune – Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, has been urged to intervene and instigate a review of the controversial changeover of Kirwan roundabout to a traffic light junction.

A relative of the Collins’ family, who operate a B&B on Headford Road, has pleaded with Mr McGrath to act to make it safe to enter and exit this house.

Joseph Murphy, from County Galway but living in England, a relative of the owners of the B&B located on the N84 side of the Headford Road, has warned of the potential for a serious collision at that junction.  He wrote to Mr McGrath, and copied all city councillors including Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins (FG), seeking a review of the junction and in particular access to the B&B. Mr Murphy said he has been driving for forty years but this junction was “one of the most difficult and complicated traffic light junctions I have ever experienced”.

The CCTV shows a van stopping in the junction to give way to pedestrians before entering the B&B.

He said he wrote the letter because he nearly had a serious accident, due to no fault of his, when leaving the residence.

An amber traffic lights system is in place at the house, since the junction changeover last year, which is supposed to help motorists exit onto the Headford Road from the B&B.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

He said the lights are complicated and it was unreasonable and unfair on his family and any guests staying at their B&B who may be endangered trying to enter or exit the driveway.

Videos of ‘near misses’ recorded on CCTV footage, and supplied to Councillor Mike Crowe (FF), have been seen by the Galway City Tribune.

They give a flavour of how dangerous it is to exit the residence on an amber light; and indicate an apparent lack of understanding of the system on the part of other motorists.

Cllr Crowe and other elected members raised this safety issue at a Council meeting last week during a discussion on the City Development Plan. It was decided to rezone some land adjacent to Sandyvale Lawn, which would allow for a new entrance to the house to be constructed, although there is no timeframe.

Mr Murphy, in his email to officials and councillors said it was an “extremely busy junction”.

“I do not believe that enough planning or consideration was taken when the traffic lights were installed, especially those that were installed directly in front of my sister’s house.

“My relatives in Galway should not have to worry every time they leave their house nor should anyone coming from the Menlo direction have to worry about getting blocked in by other vehicles when entering my sister’s house,” he said.

Mr Murphy added: “I would urge the Galway City Council to carry out an immediate review to make this busy junction safe before somebody gets hurt in a serious accident.”

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Plan for former pub in Galway to house Ukrainian refugees



From the Galway City Tribune – The former Lantern Bar in Ballybane has been proposed to accommodate Ukrainians seeking refuge in Galway.

The Galway City Tribune has learned that works are underway on the building to advance the plans.

The Council confirmed that they had been briefed on the proposal but refused to be drawn on the details.

“Galway City Council is aware of a proposal to use the Lantern Bar at Ballybane Shopping Centre for refugees,” said a spokesperson.

“The coordination of the development of accommodation facilities such as this is the responsibility of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.”

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

The local authority spokesperson said they did not have information on the number of people who would be accommodated, nor did they know when the facility might be open.

The Lantern Bar has not operated as a pub for some time, although its licence was renewed on appeal at Galway Circuit Court in February 2020 when the court was told that it was intended to sell the premises.

The bar, which had been the location of a series of public order incidents in 2019, had previously had its licence revoked following several objections from residents.

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City centre residents’ fears over new late-night opening hours



From the Galway City Tribune – Residents in one of the city centre’s oldest residential areas fear their lives will be turned upside-down by proposed later opening hours for pubs and nightclubs.

Chairperson of the Bowling Green Residents’ Association, Jackie Uí Chionna, told a public meeting of the City’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) that as city centre residents, anti-social behaviour was part of their daily lives.

However, they expected the situation to worsen if Government proceeded with proposals to extend nightclub opening hours to 6.30am.

“Our concern at our recent AGM was the longer pub opening hours – it will result in an increase in [anti-social behaviour],” said Ms Uí Chionna.

She said it was their belief that this policy went against the right of city centre residents to “exist and live as a community” in the middle of town.

“We oppose increasing opening hours. We won’t have any sleep – we have minimal as it is. And we won’t feel safe to walk on the streets.

“It is regrettable that there has been so little consultation with gardaí and residents,” said Ms Uí Chionna.

Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche said Gardaí were waiting to see what happened with the legislation for later opening hours.

“On one hand, not having 5,000 or 10,000 people coming out at the one time will be a benefit but the question is if they won’t [come out at one time]. And will businesses buy into it?” questioned the Chief Supt.

Meanwhile, another Bowling Green resident and former city councillor, Nuala Nolan, raised concerns about the new model of policing and said rostering, which had gardaí working three days on and four days off was making it difficult to follow up on matters with community gardaí.

“You can’t get that person when they’re off for another four days – the continuity is gone,” said Ms Nolan.

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