Galway-based Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has called on the government to introduce measures to reduce the number of derelict sites around the city – something he believes could alleviate the housing crisis in Galway.
Just weeks after Galway was added to the list of rent pressure zones, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Housing challenged Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, to implement more stringent measures on owners of derelict sites.
Galway City Council’s Register of Derelict Sites includes 15 properties across the city ranging from small residential homes to vast former business premises.
Speaking in the Seanad on the issue, Senator Ó Clochartaigh explained: “We have 15 registered derelict sites in Galway. This includes the former Corrib Great Southern Hotel, as well as properties in Ballybrit, Newcastle, St Helen’s Street, Ballybane and Dominick Street Upper.
“In light of the unprecedented housing crisis, it is vital that these sites are considered for upgrade, or for alternative use,” he said.
Legislation introduced by the Minister proposed a levy on derelict sites in an attempt by government to force property owners to free up potential housing stock.
However, Senator Ó Clochartaigh believed that this didn’t go far enough – and said that there should be an exemption included for Council-owned properties.
“The three per cent annual levy on derelict sites which is due to come in to force in 2019 should include measures to exclude land held by local authorities. There should also be provisions to include a higher band of five per cent for land of a greater size than one acre,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
Speaking to the Galway City Tribune, Senator Ó Clochartaigh said that pressure needs to be put on landlords to ensure that they cannot retain these sites whilst there are people sleeping on the streets of Galway.
“You have these huge sites that are derelict like the Corrib Great Southern and the old Connacht Laundry.
“Many of these, we don’t know who the owners are and many of them could be vulture funds so we need to do this to put pressure on them – the government need to take more action,” he said.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh said he believed that the focus of the government’s attention should be expanded to include smaller residences – with houses in areas like Shantalla and Bohermore having been listed as derelict for several years.
“We should be looking at smaller buildings as well because this legislation by the government only covers big buildings,” he said.
He urged the government to create a situation where local authorities would be in a position to purchase derelict properties for use as social housing.
“The government should give the local authority the finances and the first option to buy these properties and to create homes rather than selling them off as private units to create profit-making entities,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
In its budget for this year, the Council allocated €25,000 for derelict sites but according to the former Galway West general election candidate, this money has only been used for securing properties against vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
“Most of the money is being used for security and that is a waste of resources – it’s money down the drain.
“Why not put the money into creating somewhere for people to live,” he said.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh said that the issue of landlords selling homes out from under tenants is an issue that must be addressed, particularly as many of these landlords received Section 23 tax reliefs – a relief for expenditure incurred that can be set against the rent received from the property.
“There’s almost a moral onus on owners – they have been subsidised by the tax payer and there’s a moral obligation to the state who have forked out some of the money for these properties.
“Also, if the state is going to buy these properties, they could draw down on some of that money,” he said.
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.”
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).
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.