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New options for Black Box redevelopment to be examined



The Dyke Road car park and Black Box: new plans are to be drawn up.

After receiving 12 expressions of interest about the redevelopment of the Dyke Road carpark and the Black Box, Galway City Council has conceded the project is too ambitious to go it alone, putting the kybosh on hopes of replacing the theatre by 2020.

Instead, the Council will use the €750,000 funds saved over three years for its redevelopment to appoint consultants to weigh up all options for the four-acre site and to draw up a definitive specification for the cultural building that will replace the Black Box – that may or may not move away from the Dyke Road.

The €3.5 million funding approved by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly for the project will now be split evenly between two other flagship developments – the overhaul of the pedestrianised zone in the city and the creation of a children’s creative hub at Lenaboy Castle at Taylor’s Hill, formerly St Anne’s Children Home being donated by the Sisters of Mercy.

“Direction is more important than speed. We’d like to go out to procurement on this and get the preparatory work done as soon as possible,” enthused Mark O’Donnell, Senior Executive Officer for Economic Development and Capital Projects at Galway City Council.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF) said the report was full of buzz words but very little substance, noting there was just three-quarters of a million in the coffers to develop what could be a €100m project.

He stated that he was “really very disappointed by the lack of progress on it”.

“This will never be developed if we stay going on this path. It’s 14 months in the offing in what was to have been a cultural space. If you believe the Galway City Tribune, it’s going to be student accommodation.”

This prompted City Chief Executive Brendan McGrath to reply: “That’s the last thing it will be.” He later clarified that any large mixed development would have a 20% residential component according to the local authority’s own guidelines, but that could be hotel accommodation.

He said the complexity of the development – which would entail parking, possibly retail, commercial offices and some housing built over eight storeys – meant that “definitely, it won’t be developed by Galway City Council on its own”. A joint venture was currently emerging as the best route.

Mr McGrath suggested the deal may involve a land or building swap with developers or State bodies, noting the huge amount of interest shown in the site since news of the plan emerged in the 2020 bid book.

“It’s not about delaying or kicking the can down the road. The 12 or so submissions we received all proposed differing things, so this will look at the best mix and ultimately what best benefits the city first and City Council second,” he insisted.

“Liverpool only had their final project finished last year following the 2008 designation.”

This prompted councillors to throw up a long list of buildings which could be acquired for both the municipal library and a cultural centre – among them County Hall, the Courthouse, an ESB site, NUIG properties on Nuns Island.

Independent Cllr Donal Lyons formally proposed the five recommendations, including the appointment of a multidisciplinary team of consultants to lead it.


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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