Government and European funding is urgently required in the West to bring roads, environmental and broadband infrastructure up to standard, according to business group Ibec.
The group has branded infrastructure here “not fit for purpose” and warned that without investment, regional economic imbalance will continue.
Ibec’s West Regional Director John Brennan said that essential roads projects need to be completed if jobs are to be created on a large scale.
“We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to avail of really low interest rates to deliver an ambitious capital investment plan for the West Region.
“For the West region to deliver on its growth potential, it needs world class infrastructure. Our current road, environmental and broadband infrastructure is either not fit for purpose or inadequate to meet future demand,” he said.
Meanwhile, Galway-based Independent TD Mick Fitzmaurice is to begin a campaign next month to secure funding for the West from Europe.
Deputy Fitzmaurice said he agreed with Mr Brennan that “much of the essential infrastructure in the West of Ireland is not fit for purpose”.
“This is something that I have been pointing out for some time. The problems stem from a decision by the Government to remove the core funding status towards the West of Ireland in 2011.
“This was core funding from Europe which provided up to 40% towards essential infrastructure such as roads, rail links, broadband, and water and sewage services.
“However, the then Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar and the Government changed their policy in that regard in 2011.
“I will be going to Europe in October to lobby to have that funding model resumed for the Western Region.
“The infrastructure in the Western region now must be brought up to an acceptable standard and there is ‘TEN-T’ funding (Trans-European Transport Networks including road, rail, air and water) that can help in that regard,” said Deputy Fitzmaurice.
Ibec have now called on the Government to introduce an ‘ambitious’ capital investment programme in next month’s Budget.
“Businesses in the West are clearly beginning to feel the benefits of economic recovery but many remain constrained by significant infrastructure gaps.
“Very little capital investment has been delivered to the region over the past seven years and we are now playing catch-up. If we invest wisely now and deliver much needed infrastructure, the region will benefit for many years to come and business will create more jobs.”
The business group has said that roads projects need to be prioritised for completion over the next five years, including the completion of the Tuam to Gort M17/M18 motorway, the proposed N6 Galway outer bypass and identified the improvement of the N17 from Galway to Sligo as a ‘medium-term’ priority.
Other major infrastructure needs identified by Ibec include upgrades to the water and waste water networks.
“Broadband also remains a key infrastructure gap and requires public funding to deliver the essential infrastructure to those locations for which it is uneconomic for the private sector to do so.
“Now is the time to invest ambitiously and businesses in the West are calling on Government to provide funding for a number of key infrastructure projects in the region which will ultimately ensure a handsome return for the state through the benefits of business, social and employment prosperity,” said Mr Brennan.
Anger within GAA community over rejection of €5m plan
There is widespread anger within the GAA communities of Oranmore and Maree this week after planning permission received for the €5 million Renville Sports Project – which includes four playing pitches and a public playground, among other facilities on their 34-acre site – was rescinded by An Bord Pleanála.
The Planning Appeals Board reversed Galway County Council’s decision to greenlight the project ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed’ in relation to the junction on the Maree Road leading to the proposed development at Rinville West.
An Bord Pleanála maintains that if the proposed development was to go ahead, this junction ‘would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard, due to the additional traffic turning movement which the proposed development would generate’.
It’s understood An Bord Pleanála had sought clarification in relation to this from Galway County Council and that ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed as part of the proposed development to address these deficiencies within the existing junction’, it was refusing permission.
Given the scope of the proposed multi-million euro centre of excellence, those associated with the Renville Sports and Community Grounds project are furious that Galway County Council did not address this issue in the initial planning stage – particularly as they originally gave the project the go-ahead.
“The land where they could widen that (junction) entrance to take the right turn, they actually own all that land down the right hand side,” fumed Oranmore/Maree Club Chairman Gerry Rabbitt this week.
“You could put a roundabout in there! They have dropped the ball on this one and they have made a mess of it. We have spent nearly €90,000 on planning and this is just unbelievable.”
The proposed development was to provide three sand-based grass playing pitches along with an all-weather synthetic playing pitch, three warm-up and training areas, floodlighting and a covered terrace for one of the playing pitches, a hurling wall, a looped amenity walkway, 248 carpark and eight coach spaces and a public playground.
Galway County Council granted planning permission last July to Renville Sports Project Committee on behalf of Oranmore Maree GAA Club, subject to 15 conditions.
However, local residents appealed the proposed development under a number of headings.
One of those concerns raised focused on the existing road infrastructure, which residents maintained was unsuitable to take the traffic a development of this magnitude would generate.
It was on this point – restricted sightlines and an inappropriate speed limit at that location – that An Bord Pleanála upheld the residents’ objection.
The decision is a big blow to the Renville project, which operates under the slogan ‘Supporting Renville, Our Clubs, Our Community, Our Future’, and the committee is currently considering its next step.
While a Judicial Review can be sought in the High Court within eight weeks of the planning authority’s decision, the Renville Project Management Committee can only question the validity of An Bord Pleanála’s decision and cite, on this ground only, why the decision is ‘invalid or ought to be quashed’.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Management Committee considered the issues raised as ‘addressable’ and said they will be ‘doing everything possible to overcome this setback to the project’.
Mr Rabbitt said all concerned remained deeply committed “to bringing this vital project to fruition”.
Whether the Renville Project Management Committee explore the option of a Judicial Review or not, it looks as if the project may have to go through another extensive planning process once more.
“It’s terrible,” stated Mr Rabbitt. “That could be two years down the road. We have €600,000 (raised through fundraisers and donations) already and this is just a massive disappointment for us all.
Ballinasloe Horse Fair officially cancelled for this year
One of the oldest horse fairs in the country has been officially cancelled this year on health and safety grounds – with the organising committee planning to meet at the end of the year to make plans for 2021.
The Ballinasloe Fair and Festival Committee decided to cancel this year’s event – traditionally held in October – because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak.
The October Fair attracts around 80,000 visitors for the week-long festival – including a major influx from England – providing a huge economic boost for the town, and the pubs and restaurants in particular.
The co-ordinating committee said that the decision to cancel the Fair was taken with regret but that the public’s safety was paramount – because the crowds that throng the Fairgreen would be very difficult to implement social distancing
“The Committee made the decision in the interests of public health and safety and has agreed to meet in December 2020 to prepare for the return of the Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021 and make advanced plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary in 2022,” said the committee in a statement.
“The Co-ordinating Committee would like to thank the local community, sponsors, and all associations involved for their ongoing commitment and support.
“We look forward to welcoming all participants and visitors to Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021,” they added.
The recent meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council saw some elected members urge a ‘wait and see’ approach, given that the event takes place in October and that the Covid situation could change considerably in the meantime.
But that suggestion divided members of Ballinasloe Municipal Council with the majority believing that the public’s safety should be the primary consideration and that the event should be scrapped for this year.
The meeting was also told that the HSE’s advice was that the Horse Fair should not go ahead but that all ‘stakeholders’ would be contacted in advance of any decision being taken.
The annual Ballinasloe Horse Fair dates back to the 18th century and there were pleas from some councillors that it be retained on restricted basis but this suggestion was largely rejected by other elected members.
Atlantic Masters swimmers fund radios for lifeboat crews
A group of Galway swimmers – forced to cancel their annual fundraiser for the lifeboats – decided instead to pool their club subs to buy new radios for the service.
And within 24 hours of taking delivery of the four new VHF radios, Galway Lifeboat members used them on three separate call-outs – to save lives on the water.
The Atlantic Masters’ Lifeboat Swim took place for the first time last year, raising over €7,500 in funds for local sea-based organisations.
But Covid-19 restrictions forced the club to postpone the 2020 Atlantic Lifeboat Swim on June 12 – and at the same time club members’ training sessions were unfortunately cancelled as well.
But when offered refunds, members decided to pool their refunds and purchase four VHF Radios for the RNLI – in the hope that this would go some way to fill the gap in funding due to the cancellation of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim.
Galway Lifeboat Operations Manager Mike Swan expressed his thanks on behalf of the Galway Lifeboat and RNLI.
“Atlantic Masters club members are as passionate about water safety as they are about swimming and that can be seen by this generous donation of VHF radios,” he said.
“Within 24 hours of receiving the radios they were in use on three separate shouts, enabling crew members to respond faster and with greater efficiency. They truly will save lives,” he added
Last year’s event saw over 120 swimmers take on the 2km swim in Renville.
And as restrictions are being lifted and guidelines being created for hosting outdoor sporting events, Atlantic Masters Club have not given up hope of being able to run a version of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim at some point in the coming months.
Atlantic Masters chairperson Helen Colfer acknowledged that the health and safety of swimmers and local communities was their number one priority – but as the rules changed, they would look at their options.
“We are liaising with all relevant governing bodies to identify what we need to do to hold an event, be it virtual or scaled down, that could support the RNLI,” she said.
“As a swimming community, we cannot stress enough the gratitude we have for the work the RNLI do. Our club members are delighted to be able to help them in any way we can.”
For more information about Galway Lifeboat or to donate, click HERE