A few years back, I and other Councillors were approached by the board and management of Galway Hospice seeking support to build a new modern state of the art facility on the grounds of Merlin Park. They explained that prior to selecting this site they had examined many other locations throughout Galway.
For a variety of good reasons, none were suitable. It was then the hospice approached the HSE. After an exhaustive trawl and thorough examination of what sites the HSE might have available, a site at Merlin Park was chosen. It was agreed by both parties this was most the suitable.
Galway Hospice then moved to seek the support of Councillors to put in a specific objective in our development plan to allow for a hospice on the site. Nothing else could be developed there, just a hospice. A majority of us supported this.
Subsequently, permission was lodged and eventually a grant of permission was given by Galway City Council subject to nineteen conditions. This decision was then appealed to An Bord Pleanala by An Taisce, Friends of Merlin Woods and Dr. Claire Hillary.
On Monday last that the Bord confirmed that they were refusing the planning permission. That was not the way it was supposed to go. Not because I or any other party in favour of this took anything for granted but because the vast majority of the organisations, public and private here in Galway were supportive off it. Let me elaborate on this.
The Board and staff of Galway Hospice believed the location to be ideal. The HSE agreed with this. The majority of the councillors, who are the representatives of the people, also agreed. The planners in Galway City Council then granted permission on the site. In November 2018, Karen Hamilton, the inspector sent out to examine the case by An Bord Pleanala visited the site.
An oral hearing was held on December 4. Ms Hamilton subsequently submitted her report to the Bord in mid-December recommending, subject to conditions that the development proceed. So, to put it in to context the overwhelming majority of organisations and people ‘on the ground’ in Galway wanted this and supported it. The Bord’s own inspector was also happy and yet the Bord refused. Go figure.
I believe that the refusal of this project is a dark day for Galway. It has set care for terminally ill people and their families back by years. I appreciate and respect that habitats, biodiversity et al, play a role in all of our lives. But it should not dictate where we can develop necessary and much needed healthcare facilities such as a hospice.
The original grant of planning, by Galway City Council captured the concerns of the objectors resulting in some conditions being quiet severe on the developer. This should have satisfied those with those concerns. They should have stopped here and accepted the decision of the Council particularly as it took on board much of what what they wanted.
Galway is being left behind by planning refusals
It is time for an overhaul of our planning system. We cannot continue to let minority interests govern or delay vital infrastructural projects such as healthcare buildings and other necessary developments for our region. Galway is being left behind. We saw that with Apple in Athenry. We saw that with our attempt to build an outer bypass a decade ago. We see it today with this refusal.
What is striking about this refusal by the Bord is that their own inspector recommended the development proceed. Offhand I think there are only about ten percent of recommendations by inspectors that are overturned. Unfortunately, this was one of them.
We have to move away from a system that tries to be all things to all people. We have to develop a planning framework that, while having regard for all concerns, is focused on people and the peoples overall needs. Not individual needs or small minority needs, the overall greater good need.
The planning system must put the overall population front and centre. It must move towards been people centred. It is not right that a small cohort of people who objected to this hospice ended up having the project refused. This was a development that was taking up just over 1.5 acres. Hardly a monstrosity.
What I am suggesting here, will not be universally popular but it is necessary. The Government need to step up and put new planning legislation in place that mirror what people want. It is time to be brave and stop kotowing to every niche. It was said to be by some supporters of the appellants in this case, that this was democracy.
The world I live in, the majority decide, and the rest accept. That is real democracy. In future we must find away to ensure that real democracy wins out. Meanwhile, the hospice staff must tell families that they have no room to take in their terminally ill father, mother, brother or sister.
As a result of this outcome they will not have room for many more years, because of a small group. It is time for us to put in place measures to ensure this never happens again. I, for one will do my best but I need help. Help from you, the people of Galway.
Let us not lie down. Let us not give up. We must work together and act in the best interests of all of the people of the region not a minority.