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Homeless charities had “extremely challenging” year in Galway



“Extremely challenging” is how the head of the Galway Simon Community sums up 2022 – a year when the challenges of Covid were replaced by the worsening housing crisis.

But Karen Golden is cautiously hopeful that 2023 will see pressure on the availability of housing ease with the promise of more houses being built.

The latest figures available are for October, when the number of families in emergency accommodation increased further, with a 28% year-on-year increase in the west during the month.

That could well be exacerbated further when end-of-year statistics are collated due to the recent severe cold spell, which is adding misery on top of rising food and fuel poverty.

In figures tallied before Christmas, Galway Simon revealed it had prevented 551 households from losing a roof above their head, which included 197 families and 420 children. The charity provided accommodation to 193 people in its own units – 160 are given shelter in emergency beds managed by Galway Simon every night.

“On the one had we were coming out of the worst of Covid but on the other hand we straight into the cost-of-living crisis. We were already working with people who were experiencing fuel and food poverty so the big increase in costs put a lot of pressure on struggling households so overall it was extremely challenging.”

The lack of supply of housing is more acute than ever, with staff having to work harder than ever to source a home for people unable to find one themselves.

Galway City Council is projecting the delivery of 1,435 social homes by 2026, of which 40 per cent are to be built by approved housing bodies. There were 265 due to be delivered by the end of 2022 and 341 set for 2023. A further 285 are planned for 2024.

There is a target of 1,005 new affordable homes, including for purchase and cost rental, set under the national Housing for All policy in partnership with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Approved Housing Bodies.

Of the units, 23% are proposed to be one-bedroom units, and some will also be used to accommodate long-term homeless people through the Housing First programme in which the Galway Simon plays a pivotal role. This programme wraps vital supports around housing provision for those entrenched in homelessness whether they are dealing with addiction, mental health issues or physical difficulties.

The majority of units to be delivered will be two-bed, with one and two-bed units making up 70% of total delivery planned.

Galway Simon has a dedicated youth services section to help people aged between 18 and 25 to find a stable home, many of them leaving the care system with no family supports. The programme encourages them to take up training, education and employment so that over time they will be able to live independently.

“Overall, I’m hopeful that the delivery of housing will happen, and it will start to alleviate the situation. I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m concerned too because realistically the trend of the last number of years is the situation continues to deteriorate,” stated the CEO.

“The Rebuilding Ireland programme saw the situation get significantly worse over five years rather than improving it. So, the proof will be in the delivery of houses and when the numbers start to come down.

“We did see them start to come down in Covid. There were fewer notices to quit so people in private rented tenancies had much more stability. Since Covid we know a lot more landlords are exiting the market so there are a lot more notices to quit.”

The last census showed there were 166,000 vacant properties across the country – even to bring 5,000 or 10,000 of those back into circulation would make a significant difference to supply.

Environmentally it would also be a no-brainer, she reflects.

Cope Galway had one of its busiest years in its nearly half century of existence, with its 2021 annual report showing those who had to seek help with a roof over their heads jumped by 14 per cent.

Sinead Carey, Cope Galway’s Head of Homeless Service, said it was staggering that there would shortly be 11,000 people in Ireland who do not have a place to call home.

“Examining this issue from a human rights perspective, we must ask how Government can prioritise achieving every citizen’s basic human right to a home of your own, when the housing crisis is affecting every facet of society.”

The greatest share of the charity’s resources went to help 1,316 families and individuals who were homeless or at risk of losing their home.

Of these, 994 were adults, 322 were children, 119 were families and 814 were single people, whose numbers were up by over a third on 2020.

By mid-2021 there was a growing stream of newly homeless families entering emergency accommodation due mainly to the lifting of the moratorium on evictions, explained Sinead Carey, head of the homeless service.

“Homelessness isn’t limited to people we see sleeping on the street, in bus shelters, doorways and parks. Here in Galway, where a lack of affordable housing has pushed people into substandard accommodation, we regularly meet people who are living in cars and garages or survive by couch surfing and living in extremely overcrowded conditions,” she explained.

The organisation extended its Street Outreach Service for rough sleepers from one to four mornings a week to deal with the numbers of regular street sleepers, who were mainly migrants and ineligible for services such as emergency accommodation.

The “inappropriate and unauthorised” use of residential units for short-term letting purposes in Galway is something that is devastating the situation for homeless people, remarked Martin O’Connor, Cope Galway Assistant CEO.

“Despite a lot of ongoing hard work and effort to meet the housing needs of people who are homeless, this situation is frustrating for everyone as, at best, we appear to be only standing still.”


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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