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Cllrs up in arms at ‘appalling’ penalties levied on derelict buildings



The amount of money collected by Galway City Council from the owners of derelict sites has been blasted as “appalling” – as anger mounts over the number of dilapidated buildings blighting the city’s image.

Members of the Council’s Strategic Policy Committee on Environment, Recreation and Amenity were informed at their last meeting that, since 2010, a total of €51,038 had been levied on the owners of the 20 derelict sites listed on the local authority’s register.

To their chagrin, it was revealed that only €31,450 of that had been collected while the balance has been written off – having been deemed “uncollectable”.

Fianna Fáil councillor, Peter Keane, lambasted members of the Council Executive for failing to collect more, given that some of the sites on the register are above seven figures in value.

“I am appalled that this local authority has only levied €51,000 with regard to derelict sites – when is this local authority going to get serious about derelict sites?

“To suggest that is acceptable at any level, in this day and age, is appalling and we should be ashamed of ourselves,” exclaimed Cllr Keane.

Sites are placed on the Derelict Sites Register following a process which involves engaging with the property owner in an effort to remove the dereliction.

Once the site has been entered on the register, the local authority can implement a three per cent levy based on the market value of the property.

More focus should be placed on collecting what is owed rather than assisting the owners of these properties, said Cllr Keane adding, “that €50,000 would become €500,000 or €5 million very quickly”.

Local Councillor, Pádraig Conneely, was aghast that while the Council has carried out 46 inspections of properties, many of which are not on the register, it cannot reveal those properties as a result of Data Protection legislation.

“It is the same derelict sites time and time again. I note from the report that since 2010, a total of €51,000 was fined but you wrote off €20,000 of that – it seems very little to me and it would cost nearly as much in legal fees and inspections.

“You have here, ‘I am unable to issue a list of sites inspected’, under data protection – does that mean we are not allowed to know what you are doing,” queried the Fine Gael councillor.

Community representatives on the SPC expressed disappointment at the slow pace of action on derelict properties with Brendan Smith calling them a “cancer on the city”.

Caroline Stanley made reference to the Corrib Great Southern which appears on the register as having had the “majority of works completed”.

“Does that mean that it can stay there for another 10 years the way it is, because it is boarded up,” asked Ms Stanley.

Independent Councillor, Colette Connolly, said Galway should be following Louth’s lead in acquiring derelict sites by Compulsory Purchasing Order (CPO) to add to their housing stock.

“Louth County Council managed to do this with 50 properties and they tell me that if they cannot get the details of the owners from the land register, they hire a private company to do it for them.

“I cannot understand why we can’t do the same – if there is a staffing issue, let the CEO [Brendan McGrath] and the Director of Services inform us today,” said Cllr Connolly.

Newly appointed Acting Director of Services for the Environment, Gary McMahon, said that while he understood the frustration of members, the Council’s aim with this legislation was to remove the dereliction rather than generate income.

“The purpose of this is to remove dereliction or to mitigate it – it is not a revenue-raising function. Similarly, this is not an adjunct to our housing purposes.

“The €20,000 was written off because they were statute barred [passed the period of limitations],” he said.

Mr McMahon said that the council had bought two properties by CPO but there were few opportunities to add to the housing stock from those properties on the register.

“We cannot give names of the 46 properties for data protection reasons – I am not using it as a cloak of invisibility. If you can identify the property, you can identify the owners and may be subject to future litigation,” he explained.

Accepting some of the criticisms from Cllr Keane, Mr McMahon said that a different approach may be needed in the future which could involve cross-departmental co-operation.


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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