The ‘temporary’ use of South Park in the Claddagh for hospital-related helicopter landings will continue until May 2022, the Galway City Tribune has learned.
The City Council, which owns the land, only became aware last December that the HSE planned to use South Park for medical landings for 18 months.
On December 15, a Council caretaker on duty at the dressing rooms was asked to open a barrier by someone who had just landed a helicopter at The Swamp. The Council was unaware in advance that there would be two medical helicopter landings there on that day.
Documents show that the City Council has not given ‘an outright approval’ to the HSE and Coast Guard to use South Park until the second quarter of next year.
But it has ‘no objection in principle’ to it being used, and intends to grant permission every three months subject to a review.
“The permission should be subject to a simplified form of agreement/MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with appropriate insurance indemnity etc,” Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, told his management team in an email sent at 11.15pm on December 16.
The email was among correspondence relating to South Park that was released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information (FOI).
The emails suggest the Council was unaware in advance of two medical helicopter landings at South Park on December 15.
The caretaker on duty at the dressing rooms on the day was told by HSE crew who landed by helicopter that South Park was the “preferred landing space” until May 2022. He was asked to provide a spare set of gate keys to the HSE for future landings.
City Council Senior Planner Carmel Kilcoyne subsequently wrote to the HSE’s Colm Megan, National Ambulance Service, to seek clarity about “exactly what is the requirement” in South Park.
Mr Megan, in response, formally requested use of South Park as a helipad, “due to a construction crane on the hospital [University Hospital Galway] campus”.
South Park would only be used “where specific weather conditions did not allow use of the hospital pad”, he said.
“The duration of the hospital construction will be until May 2022. I would like to request from the City Council permission to use the temporary helipad once again for the transfer of critically ill patients by the Irish Airs Corps to the UHG campus,” he said in an email to Ms Kilcoyne.
The helipad on Séamus Quirke Road is also on City Council land and has been used by the HSE on a “temporary” basis for a decade.
Internal emails reveal that Mr Megan also sought the use of the Shantalla helipad to be extended.
Liam Blake, Senior Executive Planner, in an email to Council colleagues on December 15, 2020, said: “Mr Megan advised yesterday that if the temporary use of the previous ‘temporary’ helipad was not allowed on an emergency/health and safety basis until May 2022, then the default emergency landing pad – if the wind direction and construction cranes – rule out the existing helipad at UHG is at South Park, which is also compromised because of ground conditions and distance to UHG (sic).”
In an email with the subject title, ‘Helipad Séamus Quirke Road’, Mr Megan had written to Mr Blake “in respect of the future use of the temporary helipad located adjacent to” UHG.
“It has been confirmed to me that this pad would only be used in exceptional circumstances, where it is judged by the pilot in charge of the aircraft that this would be the preferred landing point for the hospital. These circumstances may include weather conditions and temporary restricted approach paths to the UHG helipad,” said Mr Megan.
A request to use South Park for medical landings was first made in February, 2019.
Paul Duffy, Acting Chief Fire Officer, forwarded an email from the Coast Guard to Uinsinn Finn, Director of Services for Transport at Galway City Council.
In the email dated February 27, 2019, John Draper, Divisional Controller of Irish Coast Guard, informed Mr Duffy that the Coast Guard landed in South Park on February 8, for an island medical evacuation because wind at the temporary landing pad at UHG was “too strong”.
“I wanted to see if this could be agreed by the Council as a backup in the event we experience similar conditions in the future. The premise would be based on the medical emergency requirement and that the landing site would be secured by the Coast Guard, Garda Síochána, and Fire Service if required,” Mr Draper said.
The following month, on March 8, 2019, Mairead Keane of the Recreational and Amenity Department at City Hall, wrote to colleagues and said that the HSE – through Colm Megan, National Ambulance Service – had asked could South Park be used for landings for “two weeks”.
“When I enquired as to the reason for the two-week period, he (Colm Megan) said that the hospital have construction works to the side of the hospital planned for the next two weeks which means scaffolding will be up and for safety reasons they won’t be able to land at UHG,” Ms Keane told her colleagues.
She said, if the Council gave its approval, the HSE “will fly a drone over South Park” to test its suitability.
Sandra Silke, in the Council’s Planning Department, in an email to Ms Keane, said she took a phone call from Colm Megan concerning the use of South Park, “as a temporary reserve helicopter landing spot, for a maximum period of two weeks”.
Ms Keane wrote to Mr Megan and said that the Council had “no objection in principle to the Coast Guard using the location” for two weeks while construction works were underway at UHG.
Permission was granted, subject to the HSE, “carrying out all appropriate risk assessments and ensuring the safety of the public during landing and takeoff”.
She advised Mr Megan that the lands in question – known as The Swamp – “are marshy in places and subject to flooding”.
She said five organisations, including West United and Fr Griffin’s Eire Óg, are licensed to use the pitches and gave contact details, “should you need to contact them”.
Mr Megan said he would, “ensure all requirements are met” and said he would “notify stakeholders of any landings to ensure safety of all concerned”.
The Council granted the permission to use the facility for “temporary access for helicopter landings” between March 10 to 24, 2019 but that was changed to March 25 to April 9, because the building work at UHG was “delayed”.
Councillors were told at a local authority meeting in January of this year that the use of South Park for medical landings would be temporary, and would not impact on the long-term masterplan for the green space.
(Photo by David McGrath. The Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 117 at the helipad at UHG. South Park will be used as an alternative landing location during certain weather conditions).
Allegations over Galway homeless hub that’s nominated for award
A unique social housing development in the city, which has been nominated for an award, was the subject of complaints and allegations by a resident living there.
The Westside Modular Family Hub has been shortlisted for the Irish Council of Social Housing Allianz Community Housing Awards 2021.
Opened in May last year, the purpose-built family homeless service was developed by Galway City Council and Peter McVerry Trust with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and the Housing Agency.
The 15 units were installed at a cost of €2 million after what Galway City Council described as, “extensive public consultation and engagement with local residents and local representatives in advance and during the project to ensure all issues of concern were addressed”.
In a press release announcing the accommodation was nominated for an award, the City Council said that, “there is strong support from the local community for the development”.
It has been nominated for an award, which is determined by public vote.
However, it has emerged that at least one resident of the hub complained to the City Council about anti-social behaviour.
The resident made allegations of drug-taking, late-night house parties and drinking, and fighting earlier this summer.
The resident detailed an alleged attack in which a woman bit another woman’s shoulder and an ambulance was required.
The complainant also said that families were not being moved-on to longer-term accommodation within six months.
The complaints were made to the Housing Department at City Hall and it’s understood they were referred on to the service-provider, Peter McVerry Trust.
A Peter McVerry Trust spokesperson said: “The service offers good quality accommodation and professional supports to homeless families. Since opening the service in May 2020 we have supported 28 families, comprising of 38 adults and 60 children and helped 13 families move into housing with a further move-on expected in the coming week.
“From time to time issues do arise within the service, and PMVT staff will speedily and assertively respond to such issues to support and protect all residents as best we can. We have 24/7 staff supports on site, intensive key worker assistance and household specific care plans in place. Ultimately, our priority for each family in our care at Westside is to secure a housing pathway for them in order to exit homelessness.”
Asked for comment, a City Council spokesperson said: “I am advised by colleagues in the Housing Directorate that any issues that may arise in the Hub are dealt with by Peter McVerry Trust who are the service providers of this facility and a service level agreement is in place to deal with any issues that may arise.”
When the 15 units were installed in 2020, City Councillor Colette Connolly highlighted at a Council meeting that there was a leak in the roof of some of the homes. The Council confirmed “water ingress” in windows in a number of the units, which would be rectified by the supplier at no additional cost to the local authority.
Announcing the award nomination last week, the Council said the hub was designed to “temporarily house families while they seek a long-term solution to their housing need,” with the assistance of the Peter McVerry Trust management who are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It features 15 own-door two-bed and three-bed units, each with a kitchen, dining space and bathroom. There is also an on-site playground.
New fire station for Athenry gets stamp of approval
Councillors have given their stamp of approval to a new fire station for Athenry – voting unanimously to grant planning for the development at Ballygarraun South.
The site of just under two acres, located between the new Presentation College and the railway line, will house a station as well as a training tower and parking.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Duffy told a meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District this week that they hoped to have a contractor appointed by the end of October, with works to get underway soon afterwards.
“We have worked very hard to get this project to a tangible position and it’s great that the ‘Part 8’ planning application [one which requires a vote by councillors] has been adopted today,” said Mr Duffy.
“This will hopefully get underway this year and we can move on to other stations [in the county], with another one planned for next year and another the year after,” he added.
The plans include the construction of a 361 square metre fire station with finishing materials common to the area which ‘will link the development on the site to the context overall’.
Permission has been granted from the IDA, which owns the site, for Galway County Council to proceed with the development on their lands.
The meeting heard that consideration had been given to the sightlines for exiting fire trucks and that amendments had been made to the original plans to ensure they were adequate.
Local area councillor Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) said the progression of a new fire station for the town was hugely welcome, adding that it had been years in the making.
“We have to give huge credit to Paul Duffy who pursued this. Athenry is one of the busiest stations in the county. We secured an extension for the existing station six years ago and when the Department was granting that, they could see that, from the amount of calls it was getting, that a new station was justified,” said Cllr Cronnelly.
Cllr Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF) said she was ‘delighted’ that the area’s representatives had given the proposal their unanimous backing.
Plan for ‘world-class’ campus with potential for 10,000 jobs at Galway Airport
From this week’s Galway CIty Tribune – A proposal to transform the former Galway Airport into a ‘world-class’ business and technology campus has been drawn up by Galway County Council – with the potential to create up to 10,000 jobs.
The plan, which was compiled as part of the Draft County Development Plan, proposes a multi-million-euro investment in the 115-acre site owned jointly by the County and City Councils.
According to the vision document, the airport site at Carnmore could become a key economic driver that would “attract and secure long-term investment in Galway and the western region, and underpin the development of the Galway Metropolitan Area”.
Among the sectors identified as potential occupants are renewable energy, biodiversity, food science and logistics.
Some of the structures included for are a ‘landmark building’; commercial units; park amenity and recreation space; a renewable energy park; and a multi-purpose leisure facility.
A contemporary development with the potential to accommodate emerging industries is promised, with projected employment numbers ranging between 3,500 to 10,000 over time.
However, county councillors raised concerns at a meeting this week that the proposal they had seen in the Development Plan had been ‘sitting on a shelf’ since last March – and they still hadn’t seen what was dubbed ‘the masterplan’ for the airport site.
Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) told the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District meeting that the recent news that Oranmore was among the locations being looked at by multinational tech giant, Intel, put fresh focus on the future of the airport.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of this story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.