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Muslim community hopes to retain controversial mosque



A planning application has been lodged at City Hall to retain a hugely controversial unauthorised mosque on the western side of the city.

The owners of the house at Mincloon, Dr Saud Bajwa and Molon Bazlul Haque of the Western Islamic Cultural Centre, have sought permission to retain the use of the property as a place of worship by the Muslim community, to construct a weather porch to the front, and to mark off car parking spaces.

They pointed out that the recently-adopted City Development Plan provides for the use of the house as a place of congregation and worship.

“The primary function of the property will continue to be a dwelling house. The property is the home of the Imam, or the Muslim ‘priest’. Similar to Catholic priests’ houses, informal visits from members of the Muslim community are commonplace.

“The dwellinghouse is segregated into areas of private use and areas accessible to visitors. The basement floor consists of a living quarter and is completely utilised for private use by the Imam and his family. Parts of the ground floor will be accessible to visitors,” the application reads.

The application includes proposals for 16 carparking spaces.

“Visitation among the Muslim community is generally a regular occurrence, with individuals and families visiting each other on a daily basis, predominantly in the evenings. The Imam’s role includes parish counselling and meeting members of the community.

“The number of visits to the Imam’s home are probably greatest on Thursday evenings in preparation for Friday’s congregation in Westside [Community Centre] and he may on occasion have 10 to 15 visitors to his home.

“Less frequently, when there is special religious events or gatherings, the numbers in attendance may exceed that. The adjoining property is also owned by members of the Muslim community and is occupied by two families,” the application reads.

A decision is expected from planners at the end of April.

The property has been mired in controversy since 2010, when an inspector from the Council’s Enforcement Section visited the site and found what was being built was vastly different from the single-storey house granted permission a year previously – this included an unauthorised basement living area, and a garage area had no garage door and was being partitioned into a number of rooms.

The Enforcement Officer also noted that the building had a “generous supply of electrical cabling”.

A warning letter and Enforcement Notice followed, and planning permission to regularise some of the changes to the development was subsequently sought and approved.

However, in 2013, there were further complaints to the Enforcement Section and an inspection found the rear of the property had been tarmacadamed for a carpark, a high timber fence had been built and the basement area contained bedrooms, a living area and kitchen, rather than the ‘study’ shown on drawings.

A further warning letter was served by the Council.

During discussions on the Draft City Development Plan (now passed) last December, Senior Planner Caroline Phelan said unauthorised development was an ongoing issue at the site.

“We highlighted all along that they shouldn’t invest money in something that is prohibited. This unauthorised development has been pursued since 2012 . . . four years of resources have been invested into something that is prohibited. Some of the inspections on this property were done up to midnight. There is a mosque on residential lands in the city,” she said.

There were 17 submissions made on proposals to vary the Development Plan to allow for a mosque on the site – all of which were against the change on the grounds of the area being an inappropriate location for a place of worship, and would lead to increased traffic congestion. However, following a heated row in the chamber, councillors voted 11-7 to make the change – against the advice of Council officials.


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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