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New levy could spur action on Galway’s derelict sites



Last week’s Budget hike in the vacant and derelict sites levy from 3% to 7% could help to get the city over the line in terms of ‘putting cranes back in the sky and boots on the ground’, according to a former Mayor of Galway.

Cllr Pádraig Conneely told the Galway City Tribune that while the new 7% levy wouldn’t be clicking into place until 2019, it could still help to ‘concentrate minds’ and to get work started in moving the city along in terms of getting major projects started.

“Maybe, the new levy could be brought in a bit sooner, but at least it’s on the way, and it has to be a help in terms of developers and site owners getting moving on a series of new projects.

“We need to get the cranes in the sky in the city and boots on the ground. It’s happening in Dublin, Cork and Limerick but we seem to be left behind here in the city.

“What we all want to see is the new levies prompting these site owners to inject a sense of urgency into their future projects. Derelict and vacant sites around the city do no good for anyone,” said Cllr. Conneely.

He also said that the City Council and planners ‘should not be afraid of heights’ in terms of allowing projects more leeway to expand upwards if that what was needed to ensure their viability.

“I would also say that the City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, is very much ‘hands-on’ in terms of trying to get those derelict and vacant sites moving as regards development,” said Cllr. Conneely.

A spokesman for Galway City Council told the Galway City Tribune said that there was an ongoing process in terms of both derelict properties and vacant sites in the city area.

He said that in Quarter One of next year, the City Council would have in place a comprehensive register of all vacant sites for potential development in addition to their register of derelict properties.

“There is an ongoing process in terms of these designations which does take time. In cases for example, there can be legal disputes over the ownership of properties that are not easily resolvable, but the aim is to get those sites back into viable usage,” said the spokesman.

Over the past year or so, ongoing concerns have been raised over the conditions of a number of high profile derelicts sites/buildings around the city, most notably the former Corrib Great Southern Hotel.

At a City Council meeting earlier this year, there was a call for the local authority ‘to stop pandering to the billionaire owners’ of some of the sites around the city.

Another former Mayor of the City, Cllr. Michael Crowe, called at that meeting for the City Council to get tough with the owners of the Corrib Great Southern site [the Comer Property Group].

Later at that meeting, the City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, rejected any allegations of the local authority ‘pandering’ to anyone, and said that a process was in place as regards this building.

He added that the value of the building would be established and from January, 2018, the 3% levy would be started.

It is understood that at the tail-end of the property crash in 2013, around 30 properties in the city area had been bought up by a partnership involving the Comer brothers from Glenamaddy and the McHale brothers in Ballinrobe for around one seventh of their original €100 million purchase price at the height of the boom.

According to Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe, the vacant site levy will increase from 3% to 7% from January, 2019, ‘resulting in an effective site levy of 10% over a two-year period’.


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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