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‘Temporary’ Galway helipad will be in use for another 12 months



The Irish Coast Guard's Rescue 117 at the helipad at UHG. South Park will be used as an alternative landing location during certain weather conditions. PHOTO: DAVID MCGRATH.

The ‘temporary’ use of South Park in the Claddagh for hospital-related helicopter landings will continue until May 2022, the Galway City Tribune has learned.

The City Council, which owns the land, only became aware last December that the HSE planned to use South Park for medical landings for 18 months.

On December 15, a Council caretaker on duty at the dressing rooms was asked to open a barrier by someone who had just landed a helicopter at The Swamp. The Council was unaware in advance that there would be two medical helicopter landings there on that day.

Documents show that the City Council has not given ‘an outright approval’ to the HSE and Coast Guard to use South Park until the second quarter of next year.

But it has ‘no objection in principle’ to it being used, and intends to grant permission every three months subject to a review.

“The permission should be subject to a simplified form of agreement/MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with appropriate insurance indemnity etc,” Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, told his management team in an email sent at 11.15pm on December 16.

The email was among correspondence relating to South Park that was released to this newspaper under Freedom of Information (FOI).

The emails suggest the Council was unaware in advance of two medical helicopter landings at South Park on December 15.

The caretaker on duty at the dressing rooms on the day was told by HSE crew who landed by helicopter that South Park was the “preferred landing space” until May 2022. He was asked to provide a spare set of gate keys to the HSE for future landings.

City Council Senior Planner Carmel Kilcoyne subsequently wrote to the HSE’s Colm Megan, National Ambulance Service, to seek clarity about “exactly what is the requirement” in South Park.

Mr Megan, in response, formally requested use of South Park as a helipad, “due to a construction crane on the hospital [University Hospital Galway] campus”.

South Park would only be used “where specific weather conditions did not allow use of the hospital pad”, he said.

“The duration of the hospital construction will be until May 2022. I would like to request from the City Council permission to use the temporary helipad once again for the transfer of critically ill patients by the Irish Airs Corps to the UHG campus,” he said in an email to Ms Kilcoyne.

The helipad on Séamus Quirke Road is also on City Council land and has been used by the HSE on a “temporary” basis for a decade.

Internal emails reveal that Mr Megan also sought the use of the Shantalla helipad to be extended.

Liam Blake, Senior Executive Planner, in an email to Council colleagues on December 15, 2020, said: “Mr Megan advised yesterday that if the temporary use of the previous ‘temporary’ helipad was not allowed on an emergency/health and safety basis until May 2022, then the default emergency landing pad – if the wind direction and construction cranes – rule out the existing helipad at UHG is at South Park, which is also compromised because of ground conditions and distance to UHG (sic).”

In an email with the subject title, ‘Helipad Séamus Quirke Road’, Mr Megan had written to Mr Blake “in respect of the future use of the temporary helipad located adjacent to” UHG.

“It has been confirmed to me that this pad would only be used in exceptional circumstances, where it is judged by the pilot in charge of the aircraft that this would be the preferred landing point for the hospital. These circumstances may include weather conditions and temporary restricted approach paths to the UHG helipad,” said Mr Megan.

A request to use South Park for medical landings was first made in February, 2019.

Paul Duffy, Acting Chief Fire Officer, forwarded an email from the Coast Guard to Uinsinn Finn, Director of Services for Transport at Galway City Council.

In the email dated February 27, 2019, John Draper, Divisional Controller of Irish Coast Guard, informed Mr Duffy that the Coast Guard landed in South Park on February 8, for an island medical evacuation because wind at the temporary landing pad at UHG was “too strong”.

“I wanted to see if this could be agreed by the Council as a backup in the event we experience similar conditions in the future. The premise would be based on the medical emergency requirement and that the landing site would be secured by the Coast Guard, Garda Síochána, and Fire Service if required,” Mr Draper said.

The following month, on March 8, 2019, Mairead Keane of the Recreational and Amenity Department at City Hall, wrote to colleagues and said that the HSE – through Colm Megan, National Ambulance Service – had asked could South Park be used for landings for “two weeks”.

“When I enquired as to the reason for the two-week period, he (Colm Megan) said that the hospital have construction works to the side of the hospital planned for the next two weeks which means scaffolding will be up and for safety reasons they won’t be able to land at UHG,” Ms Keane told her colleagues.

She said, if the Council gave its approval, the HSE “will fly a drone over South Park” to test its suitability.

Sandra Silke, in the Council’s Planning Department, in an email to Ms Keane, said she took a phone call from Colm Megan concerning the use of South Park, “as a temporary reserve helicopter landing spot, for a maximum period of two weeks”.

Ms Keane wrote to Mr Megan and said that the Council had “no objection in principle to the Coast Guard using the location” for two weeks while construction works were underway at UHG.

Permission was granted, subject to the HSE, “carrying out all appropriate risk assessments and ensuring the safety of the public during landing and takeoff”.

She advised Mr Megan that the lands in question – known as The Swamp – “are marshy in places and subject to flooding”.

She said five organisations, including West United and Fr Griffin’s Eire Óg, are licensed to use the pitches and gave contact details, “should you need to contact them”.

Mr Megan said he would, “ensure all requirements are met” and said he would “notify stakeholders of any landings to ensure safety of all concerned”.

The Council granted the permission to use the facility for “temporary access for helicopter landings” between March 10 to 24, 2019 but that was changed to March 25 to April 9, because the building work at UHG was “delayed”.

Councillors were told at a local authority meeting in January of this year that the use of South Park for medical landings would be temporary, and would not impact on the long-term masterplan for the green space.

(Photo by David McGrath. The Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 117 at the helipad at UHG. South Park will be used as an alternative landing location during certain weather conditions).


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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