If the pre-Christmas fear that we would have a general election achieved nothing else, it did flush a few Dáil hopefuls out into the public domain, resulting in a bit of competitive electioneering, particularly from two of the city's more testosterone loaded FF hopefuls.
Both were seen, or should Insider say heard, on radio, flexing their muscles over the twin issues of transport and development planning. Both are areas where, as a city, we suffer from both a significant lack of funding and sustainable planning. We are also a city without an office of city architect to help direct future planning in these vital areas.
First out of the traps to defend the proposed Bonham Quay development at the city docks was Cllr Michael Crowe, who pleaded some weeks ago, when the office/retail building was first granted council permission, that he hoped no appeals would be lodged “that would lead to any delay in the construction”. Cllr Crowe believes the development is desperately needed, and that any planning appeals against it are "not in the best interests of the city”.
Who could forget what Lorna Siggins had to say about Galway's skyline, when she wrote in The Irish Times (September 29 2007 ): “A maritime city should impress from the sea, and Columbus may have thought so when he berthed in Galway on a trading voyage between Bristol and Iceland in 1477. Were the Genoese explorer to return today, his first view would be of one of the western capital's many ugly 'monuments to consumerism' - the roof of Corrib Centre Eyre Street shopping centre.”
The development of a plan to deal with the city's traffic gridlock is even more urgent than the proposed Bonham Quay development. This is where Cllr Crowe's Fianna Fáil and Galway city council colleague, Cllr Peter Keane [pictured above], came in.
Cllr Keane's recent public meeting at the Clayton Hotel on the issue of traffic and roads felt to Insider like a Fianna Fáil selection convention. There was also the continuing support of decades old FF inspired ‘roads’ based solutions to traffic and sticking to the perceived need for a bypass - which is now to be a ‘motorway standard’ inner-ring road - that after years of delay, is set to be even further delayed with the plan not yet ready to be passed on to An Bord Pleanala until summer 2018, because it has yet to be translated as Gaeilge.
Insider has always believed that the bypass/inner-ring road would do nothing to resolve or reduce Galway's fascination with car ownership, or its forced use for commuting city workers - especially the 18,712 people who daily commute from the county for work, most use a car. This is due to our historic lack of effective planning of public transport services, and building additional roads will not lessen traffic, but it will likely promote yet more uncontrolled urban sprawl. There are no plans covering what building activity might be allowed at access points along the now chosen motorway route. So where in future will the city end, and the county start?
At least one local politician has done a bit of actual on-the-ground research into developing a new, ‘visionary’, means of public transport, and is continuing to seek an integrated solution which would include consideration of a possible light rail option, as part of a strategic public transport plan for the city.
Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly organised her own public consultation event on light rail towards the end of last year. Dep Connolly chaired the meeting, which also saw the GLUAS Group present its ideas on a light rail system for Galway.
Dep Connolly told the 200 present at the meeting how she had already organised for a delegation to visit Angers and Le Mans, to look at two of France's most recent light rail transit installations. The visit, which was facilitated by Galway-based French honorary consul, Catherine Gagneux, took place during the summer Dáil break. Anger's population is 158,000, which is what we are led to believe Galways' will be in/or about 2040. Now that’s what Insider calls forward planning! Much technical detail was then gained from LRT companies based in Paris.
Going back to planning issues, Galway Harbour Company's application for a new pier development is still stuck with An Bord Pleanala, where it will enter its fourth year of waiting since a public oral hearing was held in January 2015. Insider understands that ABP requires the company to further “develop...proposed compensatory measures" and to submit them to An Bord Pleanala "in due course”, and to designate alternative sites in Galway Bay to become “compensatory ‘special areas of conservation’". This process is expected to take a number of months to complete. Those who originally objected may then be given a further opportunity to respond.
However, there has been absolutely no public input allowed into plans for what is to be built as part of the proposed urban regeneration of the existing 32 acres of brownfield development land at what remains of the current port. The initial proposals to create ‘A Waterfront City for Ireland West’ were first put together by a consortium of business and tourism interests assembled when Dep Éamon Ó Cuív was Minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs in 2006.
That report was launched with no prior public consultation, and none was invited, as far as Insider remembers. This was to be “progressed by way of creation of an SDZ (strategic development zone ).” There has as yet been no strategic development zone created. In the meantime bits and pieces of land at the harbour are being sold off to developers! Insider wonders when will Galway ever learn how to do ‘environmental and socially responsible sustainable’ planning?