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‘Temporary’ Galway helipad will be in use for another 12 months



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. PHOTO: DAVID MCGRATH.

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).


LDA identifies lands for over 6,000 new homes in Galway City



From this week’s City Tribune: Investment of €1.8 billion is needed to deliver on the potential for more than 6,000 new housing units identified by the Land Development Agency in Galway City.

The LDA’s Report on Relevant Public Land identified eight sites in Galway which it claims can deliver up to 6,050 affordable and social houses, if planning and other constraints are overcome.

It identified potential for up to 2,240 homes on HSE land at Merlin Park Hospital; up to 1,010 homes at Renmore Barracks; and up to 950 homes at Galway Harbour.

The report conceded these sites are on complex land with “numerous constraints” and are longer-term possibilities requiring masterplans.

The other six sites include: Ballymoneen Road; Terryland Waterworks on Dyke Road; Brothers of Charity Services on Old Dublin Road; City Hall at College Road; and Sandy Road.

Galway’s sites are among 83 State-owned landbanks the LDA has assessed as having development potential for up to 67,000 homes.

Only Ballymoneen Road and Dyke Road are in what the LDA terms Class 1, which can deliver a maximum of 420 within five-ten years.

This includes between 140-200 homes on Ballymoneen Road, and between 160-220 homes at Terryland Waterworks on Dyke Road.

The cost for the development of Ballymoneen Road, on a site opposite Coláiste na Coiribe, would be between €41.2m-€50.7m.

The total cost of delivering up to 220 homes on the Teryland site is between €78.5m and €101m

The remaining 93% of the total city target face greater constraints, and longer timeframes.

Almost 70% of the  target, or 4,200 units, is earmarked for sites that are ‘Class 3’, which are lands that have potential for residential but face more constraints and are longer-term possibilities requiring masterplans.

The LDA carried out an assessment on the eight sites in the city, which had an “indicative yield” of between 4,330 and 6,050 new housing units.

John Coleman, LDA Chief Executive said his organisation was “committed to working closely with the public bodies to find common ground for the release of land for affordable housing purposes and for the common good”.

This was a first step that “will lead to the identification of locations where new affordable homes can be built”, he added.

(Image: Lands at Galway Harbour identified by the LDA for up to 950 homes).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read extensive coverage of the LDA report and for indicative maps of the lands, see the March 31 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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Transport concerns over Knocknacarra high-rise apartments plan



From this week’s City Tribune: Galway City Council has sought further information from the applicants proposing to develop 227 apartments in seven high-rise blocks at the entrance to Gateway Retail Park in Knocknacarra.

In what is the second application for the site at Gort na Bró, Glenveagh Living Ltd is seeking to develop five blocks ranging in height from three to five storeys – with 85 one-bed units, 139 two-bed units; and three three-bed units.

In a Further Information request, the Council noted that Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) expressed concerns that the development “is located in close proximity to the preferred and/or approved route” of the N6 Galway City Ring Road.

“The authority is of the opinion that insufficient data has been submitted with the planning application to demonstrate that the proposed development will not have a detrimental impact on the capacity, safety or operational efficiency of the national road network in the vicinity of the site”.

Planners state that the creation of a “fifth arm” on the roundabout from the Western Distributor Road into Gateway Shopping Park and the site proposed for development was not discussed at pre-planning meetings and “is not permitted”.

Cycling facilities have been identified as concerning, as the two-way cycling lane on the WDR “ends abruptly”, bringing cyclists into the path of oncoming traffic.

Bicycle parking included in the application would be “difficult and inconvenient” to access and would not store non-standard bikes with cargo elements, it is outlined.

(Photo: Cllr John Connolly meets with residents to discuss the Glenveagh apartments proposal).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the March 31 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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Junction underpass in Galway City regularly left under water



From this week’s Galway City Tribune: An underpass to facilitate pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate the Briarhill junction is regularly flooded with up to three feet of water discommoding the most vulnerable road users.

The popular ‘line’ walkway connecting Renmore to the heart of the city is also often deluged with water.

The two routes are used by hundreds of people to get around without cars but are an example of how Galway City Council are slow to address active travel issues, according to newly co-opted Social Democrats Councillor Alan Curran.

Cllr Curran had to warn off four people from walking through the underpass when he passed through last week.

“It’s like that for a few weeks. This happens regularly. I understand from the Council it’s a drainage issue. They’re aware of it and they have cleaned it out but it keeps returning in heavy rain,” he explained.

“The impression I got was it will take a while to get fixed. It may require some heavy engineering solution. My concern is the longer these things go on, the less people use them. Their only other option is wait ten minutes or longer at the begging buttons to cross four sets of lights.

“The entrances are dark and narrow and don’t give the illusion of safety for those using it, especially during the dark winter months. There was a pedestrian and cycling tunnel recently built in Amsterdam and the difference is stark – they know how to do it right.”

Head of Transport at Galway City Council, Uinsinn Finn, said the underpass was constructed as part of the original N6 Link, in the mid-90s when a roundabout operated.

When the roundabout was replaced with a signalised junction, with pedestrian crossing facilities and cycling lanes across the junction, the underpass worked more as a secondary option for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Underpasses – and overpasses – are not ideal and not considered in the city as we put pedestrians and cyclist generally ahead of motorised traffic and accommodate them at junctions with at-grade crossings,” the engineer stated.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the March 31 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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