From this week’s Galway City Tribune – It took more 20 months after the close of Galway’s extended year as European Capital of Culture for the official post-mortem from city councillors to take place.
And when it came, at a two-and-a-half hour debate at Galway City Council’s meeting in the Ardilaun Hotel last Monday, the results were inconclusive.
There were varying diagnoses of the problems that beset the company tasked to deliver a programme of events with €23.1 million provided by taxpayers and ratepayers.
But there was consensus, too, among councillors probing the Galway 2020 corpse that the project was struck by terrible bad luck, and it was responsible for self-inflicted wounds.
Elected members learned that technically, the Galway 2020 entity is not dead yet. Far from it. Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed it was still operating and had refocused on other European and cross-border funding streams.
Councillors can revisit that again in May 2024, by which time Mr McGrath reckoned the company will have been ‘very successful’ in drawing down money for local arts groups.
On other legacy, he was less assured. He re-iterated a commitment by Government, previously revealed in this newspaper, that a payment of €1m from the Department of Culture would go toward legacy.
When Councillor John Connolly (FF) asked about the actual legacy, and what physical infrastructure would be delivered, Mr McGrath said the Galway 2020 company and programme was never about physical arts and cultural infrastructure.
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But when Cllr Connolly quoted the organisation’s own documents about legacy back at him, which included physical infrastructure as legacy, among them an artistic space for children, Mr McGrath replied that initiatives such as that may happen within the next five years.
Cllr Connolly said Galway 2020 officially ended in April 2021, and debate was long overdue.
He said it was correct to bid for the designation, and Galway was recognised as the unofficial capital of culture in Ireland before this designation, but because of Covid “we will never know” if it would have delivered on its promise.
Cllr Connolly highlighted how ‘digital’ was trumpeted in 2017/18 as being key to the Galway 2020 project, but when Covid came “there was a scramble to produce digital content”.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) was worried that raking over the coals, publicly, could create negativity and jeopardise any potential future bid for the designation in 20 years.
He pointed out, however, that from the outset, there was a lack of information forthcoming from the Council about Galway 2020 being a limited company, which caused frustration later when councillors tried to get answers.
Cllr Collette Connolly (Ind) said it was a mistake to infer that asking questions about how millions of euro of taxpayers’ money was spent was negative.
But Cllr Niall McNelis (Lab), a former ex-officio board member of Galway 2020 during his year as mayor, said it was time to “stop flogging a dead horse”.
He suggested the amount of material available on Galway 2020’s website would be enough “to do a PHD” on how to organise an event of this scale.
“There’s nothing hidden . . . go through FOI (Freedom of Information) if you want to know more,” he said.
Cllr Niall Murphy (Green) agreed that it had encountered bad luck including weather woes, which caused the cancelation of the opening ceremony at The Swamp in Claddagh in February 2020, but overall “it was an opportunity missed”.
Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind) said “a lot of organisations got a lot of funding from Galway 2020”, amounting to just shy of €15m. “That should not be overlooked,” he said.
Cllr McNelis said €1.7m went to Macnas, and yet he claimed Galway 2020 was credited with a ‘tiny logo’ in that organisation’s promotional material, as it tried to distance itself from the ECOC company.
Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) praised staff and volunteers for their “huge effort”.
Independent councillor Terry O’Flaherty queried whether there was a need for senior Council staff to remain seconded during Covid when there was “very little happening” on the project.
Fianna Fáil’s Alan Cheevers predicted the legacy of Galway 2020, “would fit on the back of a postage stamp”, and he insisted it was important to get transparency on how it spent public money.
His party colleague Imelda Byrne said despite all the documents and reports, she could not find a total budget spend. “What is the legacy?” she asked.
Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) said aspects were good but overall it was a disappointment and he suggested “maybe Covid saved it”.
Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins (FG), said everyone remembered the hype when Galway won the bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2016.
“It was sad to see it turn sour,” she added.
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.