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CITY TRIBUNE

Tackle Galway’s congestion by building city houses

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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.

BY DERRICK HAMBLETON

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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Mercury hit 30°C for Galway City’s hottest day in 45 years

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –

Wednesday was the hottest day in the city over the past 45 years when with a high of 30.1 Celsius being recorded at the NUI Galway Weather Station.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the city dates back to June 30, 1976, when the late Frank Gaffney had a reading of 30.5° Celsius at his weather station in Newcastle.

Pharmacists and doctors have reported a surge in people seeking treatment for sunburn.

A Status Yellow ‘high temperature warning’ from Met Éireann – issued on Tuesday – remains in place for Galway and the rest of the country until 9am on Saturday morning.

It will be even hotter in the North Midlands, where a Status Orange temperature warning is in place.

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of our current heatwave has been the above average night-time temperatures and the high humidity levels – presenting sleeping difficulties for a lot of people.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Property Tax hike voted down in Galway City

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A proposal to boost Galway City Council coffers by half a million euro every year by increasing Local Property Tax (LPT) did not receive the support of city councillors.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF) failed to get a seconder at this week’s local authority meeting for his motion to increase the LPT payable on Galway City houses by 5%.

Cllr Keane said that the increase would net the Council €500,000 every year, which could be spent evenly on services across all three electoral wards.

It would be used to fund services and projects city councillors are always looking for, including a proposal by his colleague Cllr Imelda Byrne for the local authority to hire additional staff for city parks.

The cost to the taxpayer – or property owner – would be minimal, he insisted.

“It would mean that 90% of households would pay 37 cent extra per week,” he said.

Not one of the 17 other elected members, including four party colleagues, would second his motion and so it fell.

Another motion recommending no change in the current rate of LPT in 2022 was passed by a majority.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council needs 40 more workers to help deliver on projects

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Forty more workers are needed at City Hall ‘right away’, the Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said.

Brendan McGrath has warned city councillors that the local authority is understaffed and it needs to hire more staff immediately to deliver its plans and projects.

The total cost of the extra 40 workers, including salary, would be between €1.75 million and €1.95 million.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council had a workforce now that was below what it had in 2007, but the city’s population has grown and so too had the services the Council provides.

The population of Galway City grew by almost 11% in the 10 years to 2016, he said, and total staff numbers in the Council fell by 13.6% during that period.

Though more staff were hired in recent years, Mr McGrath said that the Council was at 2007 and 2008 staffing levels, even though the Census will record further increases in population since 2016.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council now provides 1,000 services across a range of departments, far more than during the 2000s.

He said that currently, 524 staff are employed at the City Council. This equated to 493 Whole Time Equivalents when part-time workers such as school wardens and Town Hall workers are included.

Mr McGrath said that 12% of all staff are in acting up positions, with many more in short-term or fixed-term contracts. There was a highly competitive jobs market and the Council was finding recruitment and retention of specialist staff difficult.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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