In the week where world leaders gathered in Glasgow at COP26 to bang heads together on how to tackle the climate crisis, local environmental activists have reiterated calls for the City Council to sign up to the National Park City initiative or face being ‘left behind’.
According to the initiative’s convenor, Brendan Smith, fears that the project would stifle development were “totally unfounded”, and Galway would miss out on development if it failed to act, as financiers and investors turned their attention to sustainable development.
The aim of the National Park City to have Galway recognised as a city ‘dedicated to sustainability, where citizens benefit from, and are strongly connected to, nature’, and to have that commitment enshrined in the City Development Plan.
“It is coastal cities such as Galway that are most at risk from the devastating impact of global warming, such as rising sea levels and powerful seaborne storms,” said Mr Smith.
“The Galway National Park City initiative could play a part in overcoming this serious deficit. It represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness the fantastic range of talents and world-class expertise found amongst the stakeholders of our great city, to reimagine our urban landscape and to be found amongst the stakeholders of our great city, to reimagine our urban landscape and to be a leader and role model for other Irish cities to emulate.
“Galway City must now grasp the opportunity that is being presented to it by a coalition of champions drawn from education, business, scientific research, technology, architecture, arts, youth, health and community interests and to follow the lead of national, regional and local governments stretching from Cardiff to Adelaide in supporting this new and inspirational designation,” he continued.
At a recent meeting with local representatives and City Council officials, Mr Smith gathered big-scale developers from London – which has already been designated a National Park City – and other locations who all made the similar point.
“They’re saying that funders want to see sustainability. We want to see development in Galway but we want to see it done sustainably and what these guys are saying – including Martin Gettings who was behind the biggest regeneration project in Europe at Canary Wharf in London – is that the money is now backing green, sustainability and diversity.
“The situation as it is in Galway cannot continue. Every indication is the jobs are going in the direction of green and this is the way the world is moving and we have to be part of that. That Council can’t do it alone; it needs to tap into all sectors and the National Park City gives them an avenue to do that,” said Mr Smith.
Every city must adhere to a set of principles in order to achieve the designation and as a result of the work of volunteers and the over 100 champions signed up to back the project, most have already been achieved. The one glaring omission is the backing of the local authority, Galway City Council.
Those speaking at the event discussed how Covid-19 had changed cities and in order to attract those who had abandoned urban life since working from home became possible, ecologically vibrant spaces with green space and waterways at their core would be the only way to bring them back.
Group Director of Sustainability at Canary Wharf Group in London
“The pandemic, for all its ills, has had the effect of galvanising our resilience and heightened our understanding that, when it comes to global challenges, we stand as one. It has stared to reforge our relationship with the built environment.
“People are starting to realise more and more the effects that ‘place’ can have, not only on their own health and wellbeing, but on local and global ecosystems.
“To tackle ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs), we need ‘Sustainable Development Action’ and we have aligned our strategy with the SDGs. All of this means that we can now raise green finance based on our existing green portfolio and our future plans. We see the aims of the National Park City as in absolute alignment with this.
“A city with a National Park City status helps create the conditions for places, people and nature to thrive. We truly believe that the collaborative culture that built Canary Wharf is the same that we need to address the climate and biodiversity crises.”
Corporate Investment Manager with Fabrix, London
“Covid has brought into focus the need for healthy workspaces including the introduction or reintroduction of nature into the urban landscape.
“The [London] National Park City Developers’ Forum is helping to have the principles of making the city greener, healthier and wilder happen.
“The National Park City principles were never seen as a hindrance. In fact, the principles have guided us and ensured that our plans have received a high level of support from investors, residents, business and community organisations,”
Director of Sustainability, AECOM Europe, an American-owned multi-national engineering firm
“The National Park City movement is not a signal to the world that we are restricting development . . . it provides a framework for providing higher quality development. It is about greener, healthier liveable climate-resilient cities.
“While it may be a challenge to the ‘development community’ as a whole, it is one we need to rise to.”
Head of Environment Protection, Social Responsibility and Corporate Governance at Savills Investment and co-founder of London National Park City Developers’ Forum
“Developers have seen that making a place greener, healthier and wilder can be an incredible catalyst to making places more liveable. ‘Development’ and National Park City principle are very much linked.
“Investors from sustainable investments funds such as pension funds are wanting to invest in greener projects.
“The growing Sustainable Finance Investment landscape is a huge opportunity for Galway through the Galway National Park City to get the best investment for your city.”
Head of Parks & Harbour Authority, Cardiff Council
“Cardiff Council passed a motion in January to support the development of a National Park City for Cardiff. It has widespread endorsement from all the political parties. Cardiff is one of the greenest cities in the UK and wants to be a carbon neutral city by 2030.
“Community engagement is critical for the Council and the Council sees the National Park Movement as a tool for engaging with a wide range of stakeholders. Council wants to be a facilitator for the movement. The Council is experiencing budget reductions but we don’t feel that we will be hostages to fortune and are committed to building the momentum, the campaign and in achieving the status of National Park City.”
Former official at the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission and a policy coordinator for the European Green Deal
“Galway National Park City . . . is a movement from the ground up of committed people, volunteers who are engaged in the green transition and it clearly fits into the EU Green Deal because it is really where citizens are trying to create a green deal, a local green deal for Galway. It is direct evidence of citizen engagement.
“If the Galway National Park City was recognised in the Development Plan by Galway City Council, I would feel that it would be a hook to apply for EU funding because it is true recognition and evidence of citizen engagement.”
(Photo: ‘Roots in the Sky’ in Southwark, London, backed by Fabrix investors, exemplifies the type of development attracting funds thanks to the London National Park City designation according to Matthew Weaver, Corporate Investment Manager of the company. The building includes a 1.4-acre roof-top forest with over 100 trees and 10,000 plants).
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.