Friends of Merlin Woods and signatories of the petition (nearly 7000 and rising, gathered both online. local areas and on Shop street Galway ) to save the meadows welcome the decision of An Bord Pleanála to refuse the planning permission for development of Galway Hospice on the meadow and woodland of Merlin Park Woods an area zoned as Recreational and Amenity Land.
It is with deep regret that members of the local community were put into a position that had no option but to defend a place which is highly valued and used within the community and of increasing recreational and amenity value as the east of the city grows in population density.
An enormous amount of support was behind that decision to proceed with the work which we set out to do since 2012. The aim was and is to protect and promote the positive use of Merlin Park Woods habitats for both the people who use it and the wildlife who depend on it for their survival.
No one is celebrating this as a victory because of what has been lost and need not have been. Many of the people who support the campaign to protect the meadows and woodlands have also been affected by cancer or have had loved one’s affected by it so can understand why people will feel upset.
Never been a campaign against the Hospice
It has never been a campaign against the hospice. It has always been about the chosen location. With the availability of 84 acres and Freedom of Information documentation submitted to An Bord Pleanala showing explicitly that other options were offered to Galway Hospice within Merlin Park Hospital Complex from the HSE, it is felt that a better location could have been found which would have enabled community to work together as opposed to create division.
As a group who work closely with the communities and various groups, community has always been at the heart of what we do and how we can combine both the benefits for the wildlife and the people who use it.
Friends of Merlin Woods are deeply disappointed that this could have all have been avoided if the land had not been given specific rezoning originally. The advice from the city planner to the Mayor and Councillors during material alterations of the pre-adopted Galway City Development Plan 2017-2023 was NOT to proceed with planning on this site.
This was presented by the planners and the City Manager but was not heeded by the Mayor or a select number of councillors who approved the rezoning. In part of our submissions to the Council during rezoning, we highlighted those policies which are in place to protect places like Merlin Woods and its Annex 1 meadows, but they were dismissed by a majority of currently elected councillors who voted for the specific zoning for the Hospice.
Those same policies are why An Bord Pleanala have refused development. Some councillors are objecting to the voices of community and asking them in local publications and online to be silent, calling for the change in Planning Law, or amendments to the City Development Plan in conflict with the local communities wishes.
We respect the right of all voices to be heard. Our planners had approved this planning application and granted planning permission contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. An Bord Pleanála has shown this in the refusal of the planning permission with the reasons and considerations made.
Decision shows the protection for the habitat
From here we now need to see how we can get that protection needed for the European sites within Merlin Woods and its habitats and look for the protection which this case has highlighted for this high biodiversity area within our city against any plans in the future to develop these areas.
The decision made by An Bord Pleanála has shown the level of protection it has under the Galway City Development Plan with protection for Natural Heritage Recreation and Amenity areas, and under Policy 4.2 of the Galway City Development Plan.
This result may also benefit other communities who are trying to protect special areas within their communities. We would like to give our appreciation to the many supporters, in our local area, the city, nationally and internationally. The councillors who supported us, plus all those who have aided, advised and actively participated in the campaign to protect Merlin Park Woods and its meadows.
We also believe in open and transparent, early dialogue, where a lot more can be achieved and less planning or operational controversies are likely to arise where you are dealing with dramatic changes of areas or that which affects a community, wherever that may be.
We acknowledge the decision by An Bord Pleanála and believe they have come to the correct decision in compliance with the policies set out by the Galway City Development Plan 2017-2023 in the interest of proper planning and sustainable development of Merlin Park Woodland and its habitats.