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200 turn out for meeting to oppose plans for Westwood Hotel



“There is a need for student accommodation – but not in our estates, thank you very much; we have had enough.”

These words were met by rapturous applause at a meeting of around 200 Newcastle and Dangan residents last week opposed to the construction of 400 student bedrooms on the site of the Westwood Hotel.

The meeting entitled ‘Save the Westwood Hotel Campaign’ was told that unity would be needed to block the proposed development which would see the hotel knocked and high-density student digs built in its place.

In a show of hands, the attendees unanimously agreed that they were opposed to the construction of student accommodation on the site.

Chair of the meeting, Clifden Park resident Basil Fenton, outlined the details of a meeting with the committee of residents and new owners of the site, Ziggurat Student Investment Fund and Atelier.

“14 weeks ago, there was a meeting in the Westwood to discuss out plans – a committee was formed made up of volunteers and we have had eight meetings since then.

“On May 22, we met with the new owners – Atelier and Ziggurat – and we are here tonight to dispel some of the rumours floating around,” said Mr Fenton.

According to Mr Fenton, they were informed by Ziggurat co-founder, Matthew McAdden, that the purpose-built student accommodation would be leased to college students during term time and to language students for the two months of summer.

“Back in May, he reckoned the planning process would take three to four months and once the Council are happy, they will submit their planning application which they said would be sometime in August.

“They are assuming that they will start working on site in May or June of 2018,” he remarked.

Mr Fenton said that the committee had been told that the building would be four to five stories on one end and three to four stories on the other end,” he added.

It was suggested that to prepare the strongest possible objection to any planning application that is to emerge, expert help should be sought in the form of a planning consultant.

To do this, the committee is seeking €20 from each household in the area to cover any costs associated.

The committee expressed concern over new legislation as part of the government’s housing strategy – namely the fast-tracking of planning decisions on large-scale housing schemes by routing applications directly to An Bord Pleanála.

They feared that this option would be taken by developers to bypass Galway City Council’s planning process – however, all current indications are that the traditional route will be used.

It was claimed that a proportion of the site would need to be rezoned to allow for the construction of the new student facility.

All three city councillors who spoke at the meeting, namely Cllr Frank Fahy (FG), Cllr Ollie Crowe (FF) and Cllr Mark Lohan (SF), confirmed that they would block any attempt to rezone the site.

There was some dissent in the room over naming the campaign ‘Save the Westwood’ with some believing this was an impossible task now that the hotel has been sold.

One resident said: “I can’t for the life of me see why saving the Westwood is more important to blocking the construction of student accommodation – I think the main attack should be on the planning application for student accommodation.”

Mr Fenton said that the hotel was a very important amenity in the area and, with an aging population, it was vital that a facility like this was available locally.

It was pointed out at the meeting that a hand-delivered invitation to the meeting was brought to Non-Executive Chairperson of Atelier, Enda McGowan.

They said that despite earlier assurances that the company would engage with residents at all times, Mr McGowan was absent from the hall.

Ziggurat, a UK-based pension fund investment company, plans to construct 1,000 student beds in the city over the coming years.

The company has already constructed similar properties across the UK as well as in Cork and Dublin.


Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge



The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.

Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.

A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.

The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.

The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.

One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.

Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.

The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.

(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).

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Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City



From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.

Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).

Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.

He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.

The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.

At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.

And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”

Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.

Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.

He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.

The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.

“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.

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