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€9 million arthouse cinema finally set to open this year



Eight years after the sod was turned, numerous missed deadlines for completion and controversy over misspent public funds, the arthouse cinema is now tipped to be open to the public by the end of this year according to the new operators.

Andrew Lowe, director of Element Pictures, opened the building site up to the Galway Chamber of Commerce and Galway City Councillors on Wednesday, presenting an overview of how it will look and what will be scheduled in its programme when it finally opens its doors.

In a briefing to the Galway City Tribune, Mr Lowe said he could not comment on any previous agreements reached over the three-screen building, which has so far cost the taxpayer in the region of €9 million.

Filmmaker Leila Dolan, who spearheaded the project from the beginning, approached Element Pictures to run the arthouse cinema in a similar vein to its Light House Cinema in Dublin in 2013.

Following concerns over how the project was being managed, the public funders including Galway City Council, the Irish Film Board and the Department of the Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs asked Element Pictures last year to take over management and oversee its completion.

Mr Lowe said under the new contract, the company increased their investment to nearly €900,000 in a bid to complete the fit-out, with their final funding likely to run to nearly €1m.

They will have a 30-year lease to run the facility, which will have a bar and cafe. They will have to repay Solas’ debt of €650,000 to the Western Development Commission over the next 25 years and will start to pay commercial rent to Galway City Council which still owns the site from 2026.

“We’re here to get the cinema open and completed and to run the thing. Galway will have a state-of-the art arthouse cinema with a significant level of outside funding.”

In response to criticism that the facility would be a white elephant in a city with two cinemas already, Mr Lowe said he was confident it would be a success.

“Galway has a very developed film culture. It’s very vibrant culturally. Given the population of the city and the hinterland and the significant level of third level students, we’re satisfied there is a sufficient demographic to support it,” he insisted.

He pointed out that not one of the top 20 films of 2016 in mainstream cinemas had appeared in the top 20 films of the Lighthouse. Their top films were Room, Sing Street and A Date For Mad Mary.

“We draw a very different audience. We’ve built the Lighthouse Cinema audience and doubled it in five years. We have a very active schools programme, we have showings of recorded theatre like Shakespeare.

“Our event cinema shows opera, ballet, we do a lot of curated seasons around actors and directors and retrospectives of film you’d want your kids to see on the big screen. We recently had a Wes Anderson party where everyone dressed up as characters from the movie, the Grand Budapest Hotel.”

While they will not be showing the Disney blockbusters, there will be a parent and baby morning and classic screenings geared for kids.

Pushed about an exact opening date, Mr Lowe said it would be “definitely finished this year”.

“We expect it to be open by Christmas. We need to get it open by Christmas. It’s the busiest time of the year.”


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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