Galway city councillors have slammed the application for the proposed student housing development at the Westwood Hotel site in Dangan.
The proposed development would include the demolition of the existing Westwood Hotel and the redevelopment of the site for student accommodation to include 63 apartments with 394 bedrooms, together with all ancillary facilities such as a reception area, social spaces, study areas.
Discussing the draft report of the proposed scheme at the meeting of the local authority on Monday evening, many councillors raised the issue of limited car parking spaces (a total of 10 for term time plus 14 temporary extra spaces outside of term time for tourist season ) as a major factor why they believed the development should not be allowed to proceed.
Labour councillor Billy Cameron said Newcastle already suffered from chronic traffic and parking problems, and the proposed student accommodation would only add to the problem.
"I am here [working as a councillor] for 14 years and most of my time spent serving has been to get traffic out of Newcastle. Pay and display was introduced on N59 and all housing estates to help alleviate the problem, but student parking overflow [from NUI Galway] is the major problem. This development if allowed will only worsen problem and this is why it should not go ahead. The 10 car parking spaces proposed [for term time] is an insult to the local community and should be rejected."
Cllr Donal Lyons said he was very worried about the number of car parking spaces. "A lot [of students] may walk or take the shuttle bus. In a private house you need one and half spaces according to our development plan.
"Car parking has not been touched on in chief executive's report. In a block of apartments you need a good number of spaces. How can we say 10 for nearly 400 students is enough?"
Fine Gael councillor Frank Fahy queried whether more parking meters would have to be installed in Newcastle.
"Are we going to charge for parking? Are we going to have to turn Newcastle into a parking metre zone? It seems to me that this will be done on the cheap by not putting in underground car parking."
Cllr Declan McDonnell could not understand that there were only 10 car parking spaces for nearly 400 students, with Galway City Central councillor Ollie Crowe describing the lack of parking as "a farcical situation" and "just wrong".
The size of the development blocks, three to five storeys tall, was also highlighted as a problem by councillors.
Fine Gael councillor Padraig Conneely suggested the size of the accommodation on the site was bad planning.
"I have an issue with the site and density. Almost 400 students seems to be large in a condensed site. That is an issue. The size and bulk of so many storeys in a residential area is not good planning. We need accommodation and student accommodation; there are other locations [in the city] that can take this development, but not in a residential area."
Independent councillor Terry O'Flaherty questioned whether the height of the accommodation was in keeping with the guidelines of the city development plan.
"Providing high rise accommodation does not keep within our guidelines [of the city development plan]. This imposing accommodation would add nothing to the area."
Councillors also pointed to the loss of the Westwood Hotel as a local amenity for the community.
Cllr Cameron said losing the amenity of the Westwood Hotel would leave a huge void in the community, with Cllr Mark Lohan arguing that the move to provide a cafe/restaurant for the local community was inadequate and would not be able offset the loss of the hotel.
Senior executive planner of the Galway City Council, Liam Blake, said the council agreed the size of proposed development would be too big to fit in with the city development plan, but highlighted that An Bord Pleanála, who will take the decision to grant permission, is not obliged to adhere to the guidelines.
An Bord Pleanála
"We [Galway city council] feel the site goes over 30 per cent of what the development plan allows and we have suggested the fifth floor to be taken off the blocks. We reiterated that it should be reduced but the developers have submitted the current draft plan before us.
"Students can walk to the development from NUI Galway and we are also looking to provide more bus services on this route. This proposed student accommodation should free up more traditional housing in the city which is badly needed."
The city council will send a report with councillors' submissions on the proposed Westwood Student accommodation in Dangan to An Bord Pleanála within the next fortnight.