Ever-growing congestion on Galway City’s roads over recent years has led many commentators to argue strongly for more new construction – to advocate an increase in the capacity on city roads commuter routes and for an N6 Outer Bypass, the latter again with An Bord Pleanála.
BY DERRICK HAMBLETON
The bypass was the option first advocated by Buchanan & Partners more than 20 years ago, until a judgement in the European Courts of Justice in 2015 put a halt to that particular whizz of a plan.
Unfortunately for Irish taxpayers, the promoters of this ‘roads-based solution’ did not heed the warning signs.
So even now, ‘the let’s just have more roads as a solution’ lobby are again pushing for a new alternative, which is to be an expensive €650m, now so-called Inner Ring Road, which has again been submitted for consideration by the now under-resourced Planning Board!
This environmentally and socially damaging project simply cannot be justified, with 35% of car traffic actually crossing the river, only 3% of that traffic wanting to bypass the city.
Yet I do believe that our main commuter routes do need upgrading. It is unarguable that the N59, N83, R339 and R338 – which carry so much traffic into the city from county areas – have not been upgraded in years!
However, we need to remember that the Paris Agreement on climate change now has legal effect.
Then, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published an alarming special report, it came with both good news and bad for Galway. The good news is that the carbon budget for staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is larger than we thought, so we have a bit more time to act. The bad news is that the consequences of overshooting that threshold are very, very bad.
The catastrophes that we once believed would be triggered by only 2 degrees of warming are likely to occur at this lower threshold, including widespread collapse of food yields and extreme levels of human displacement.
For example, people may soon have to be moved away from living in areas such as in Galway City that are likely to flood. We can all remember the trauma caused to farming families and city residents from the flooding in November 2009, in January 2014, November 2015 and again in February 2018.
The design, construction and management of roads, parking and other related facilities as well as the design and regulation of vehicles is known to cause significant damage to forests, prairies, streams and wetlands.
Besides the direct habitat loss due to the road itself, and the road-kill of animal species, roads alter water-flow patterns, increase noise, water, and air pollution, and create disturbance that alters the species composition of nearby vegetation, thereby reducing habitat for local native animals, and act as barriers to animal movements.
In the case of the N6 Ring Road, it would mean the displacement of 44 families from their homes with a further 10 houses rendered uninhabitable, as well as the demolition of two industrial properties and the loss of two industrial complexes.
Yet the roads transport lobby, which accounts for in excess of 19.8% of this pollution, presses on with more of their unsustainable plans.
Some would argue that the building of another new motorway will have the effect of promoting more car use, not less. This will be Galway’s continuing contribution to species extinction, and exacerbates our own contribution to climate change.
Unfortunately, the number of cars using a spiders web of commuter routes into the city is ultimately proportional to the capacity of the network. Building yet more roads simply makes it possible for more cars to be poured into any chosen route, which itself encourages more people to live in less expensive locations outside of Galway City, but from where a daily commute is required. Eventually, when capacity is reached, people will just start clamouring again for yet more new roads (the M50 effect).
This intensity of car use has been building in Galway since the early 80s, when the last new bridge was built crossing the River Corrib, (the 1985 Quincentenary Bridge).
The populations of large towns in counties within an hour’s drive of Galway have also increased far more rapidly over the past two decades than in almost any other, with yet more external population growth predicted before 2040, we are told.
The only sustainable long-term solution to congestion, and to reduce use of cars, is for people to live close enough to their place of work that they can either walk, cycle or avail of high-frequency public transport.
Yet the IDA seem powerless to promote enough new industry into county areas, and Galway city centre itself has seen very few houses built in recent times, as compared to those larger numbers being constructed in all areas out into the county.
In large peripheral areas such as we have in county Galway where housing is highly dispersed, it is simply not possible to effectively locate employment to facilitate shorter commutes. The only viable solution is to concentrate new housing nearer to growing business centres, hence in Galway City we are to have workers living in Ardaun, perhaps servicing Parkmore. But when construction is actually going to begin there, no one yet knows?
There is still plenty of vacant land available within Galway City itself. I was told in 2014 that undeveloped land zoned for residential use in the Galway City Development Plan 2011-2017 is c299 hectares (739 acres), but for various reasons it has never been made available for construction.
Landowners and developers frequently argue, with little justification that high costs mean it is not possible to service land, build according to strict conditions and still provide affordable homes of the type that families want to live in. In the meantime, it has remained viable to service land and construct homes in more distant locations – but only as long as the State continues to foot the bill for the enhanced road network that makes living in out of the way areas feasible.
Then, as we are constantly being told by opponents of light rail, a Gluas-type tram transit in Galway is unachievable, whereas all over Europe governments have learned that ‘higher density’ housing makes tram systems economically viable. As the premium now being charged on houses built near the Luas in Dublin clearly shows.
The luckless N6 Ring Road application is again submitted to An Bord Pleanala. Meanwhile Ceannt Station, the harbour lands and at Dyke Road sites are all listed for regeneration, each having been subject to much speculation since 2002, when potential for port relocation first became news.
Brendan McGrath, City Council Chief Executive, recently said when talking about the appointment of consultants to draw up a ‘Public Realm Strategy’. Much will depend on the outcome of plans to extend the Port and the development of the N6 Ring Road, as the bypass is now called.
We are left to wonder when we will see more of the housing the city needs actually built? The Government’s new National Regeneration and Development Agency (NRDA) and even newer LDA, Land Development Agency, are already sniffing around the city with the notion of buying lands for housing on public lands.
The current congestion problems being experienced in Galway are what results when the State leaves the development of homes to the private market. While the Government is left to take care of funding the building of roads to service them, the costs to the State have just been shifted from the left pocket to the right, while the long-term commuting problems of all who live in scattered development have multiplied.
The State’s new Land Development Agency should intervene, to allow more people live within the newly extended ‘Galway Metropolitan Area’, which is being extended to include Barna and Oranmore.
Perhaps use regeneration lands available at Ceannt Station as well as on Galway Port’s underutilised lands, instead of forcing workers into unsustainable commutes, with many workers still having to drive in from surrounding counties.
The funding for subsidies to construct housing, to improve public transport such as providing Light Rail or, to provide better public transport services to activate potential building land, could easily be provided by diverting the vast sums of money that would otherwise be spent on building and maintaining this environmentally damaging, additional N6 Ring Road space.
This I believe is the most sustainable solution, and one that in the long term will give the best quality of life option for the largest number of people living in Galway.
■ Derrick Hambleton is Chairman of An Taisce – Galway and wrote this article in a personal capacity.
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.