Waste water and poor planning threaten city's future development

As the city outgrows the sewer network, lack of adequate wastewater treatment facilities are 'stifling the county’s potential to develop further'

 Mutton Island wastewater treatment plant. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Mutton Island wastewater treatment plant. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

In its recent publication, Wastewater Treatment in Galway, An Taisce reminded us that until the wastewater treatment plant on Mutton Island came into operation in 2004, this city had historically allowed 6,000,000 litres of untreated raw sewage a day to flow out into Galway Bay, a Special Area of Conservation.

Insider well remembers the years of argument, political debate, and regular abuse, along with the acres of local as well as national newspaper coverage, across the 20 years of campaigning it took to try and have the treatment plant built on a more sustainable land-based site.

There was an eventual challenge via a High Court case, followed by a Supreme Court appeal, taken by local actor Ray McBride (still a hero ), and supported by the Save Galway Bay group. The group had been established by the late Fianna Fáil councillor, Tom Cox, and others, after Galway Corporation had first suggested in 1983, that it would build a massive primary treatment plant and pump house building in South Park - this would have involved pushing chemically treated effluent a little further out into deeper water, just beyond Mutton Island.

What might have been

All through the post WWII period of city growth, into the 1960s and 1970s, the sewer networks were all directed towards South Park where the plant and pumping station was planned to be located. Today, people walking the greenway along by the Claddagh Beach will hardly remember the hum of the motors inside the small pump house which was operating there until 2004. This sped most of Galway's sewage effluent out beyond the picturesque island with its lighthouse tower (built 1815 ) then to be broken down by the natural elements.

'When it rains, raw sewage, and other unmentionables, are seen to flow out of ‘storm water overflows’ located at The Long Walk, the Claddagh Basin, Ballyloughane outfall, and other locations'

Residents of Frenchville could have today been looking out at a monstrosity, had the doughty Save Galway Bay volunteers not risen up to resist this ugly imposition. Yet, they were for many years after pilloried, derided, and abused by most politicians and many others, for daring to say the chosen island site would be too small, even though we all knew an upgrade would soon be required as the city grew larger. How right those campaigners were.

Even after the upgrade to improve the treatment process took place in 2014/15, the island site must now, again be supplemented by another even more expensive treatment facility that is yet to be built, on the east of the city.

Waste system needs an upgrade - again

Today, despite the upgrade, the treatment of Galway's daily waste water output is again under pressure just a bare 16 years after the plant first opened. As the city has outgrown the sewer network, there is a lack of storage capacity within the city-wide pipe network which now stretches from beyond Oranmore to include collection from Bearna. We had all just read the stories about tankers having to remove a nasty build up of sludge from the broken pump station in Bearna.

We then heard Independent Galway East TD Sean Canney on Galway Bay FM arguing that the lack of adequate wastewater treatment facilities in Galway “is stifling the county’s potential to develop further.” Galway West TD Noel Grealish said the same thing a week or so earlier, after he too saw the evidence. It seems, finally, that the politicians are coming around.

An Taisce's report only confirms what many locals have been saying for years - that when it rains, raw sewage, and other unmentionables, are seen to flow out of ‘storm water overflows’ located at The Long Walk, the Claddagh Basin, Ballyloughane outfall, and other locations. These now more regular, unmeasured releases, have lost Ballyloughane Beach its Blue Flag, something the beach will find hard to regain.

Analysis of future weather patterns as a result of climate change, predicted by An Taisce's own former honorary president, climate and meteorology expert Prof John Sweeney, show how much wetter our winters are becoming in the north and west, with drier summers expected in the south and east (The Irish Times, Marie O’Halloran, December 29 2020 ). This indicates matters can only get worse unless and until the long promised Galway East WWTP is built, between Oranmore and Athenry.

City's future expansion at risk

Insider considers that much of today's planned development, and the future expansion being predicted for Galway city and county is at risk, and could be put on hold, or lost altogether, unless our authority’s planners crack on and do the job they are employed to do!

'Planning authorities could make more use of Local Area Plans, which are intended to ensure proper public consultation, and allow people to be involved in what gets built in their own city'

Galway West TD and Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Catherine Connolly, spoke strongly when challenging the lack of investment for Galway in the recent debate on the Government Appropriation Bill 2020. On the last sitting day in Dáil Éireann before the Christmas break, Dep Connolly meticulously listed many of the missing elements of essential infrastructure needed in Galway: orthopaedic operating theatres at Merlin Park; the long promised new A&E for UCHG; park and ride; sustainable public transport; no light rail feasibility study; and, most importantly, the lack of significant numbers of local authority built. To that long list of missing pieces of public infrastructure, she could also have added sewage treatment.

Insider was present in the audience at the Hardiman Hotel, for the glitzy public launch of the Government action plan for housing and homelessness, RebuildingIreland.ie, a few years back. Both the county and City CEOs took this as an opportunity, from the stage, to press the minister on the possibility of his securing funding for the then urgently needed Galway East WWTP, as well as seeking financial support for the installation of the waste and freshwater pipes and road network needed to allow actual house building to commence at Ardaun (first planned 22 years ago ). Years later, not a single brick has been laid, nor has a single homeless family been housed.

Public land and private developers

One of the best articles written recently about the housing crisis, read by Insider, was to be found in Michael McDowell's regular column in The Irish Times (December 29 2020 ), entitled ‘A perfect political storm gathering over housing’.

The former justice minister was writing about more recent changes in Government housing policy in Dublin, but mentioned how the drafting of the Land Development Agency Bill was under way: "All the signs are that this body is mainly intended to facilitate the provision of existing publicly owned land to private developers. Yes, there is publicly owned under-used land that could be used for homebuilding.

"That is not the issue. Existing public bodies could have ensured its development under existing laws. The real problem has been the cosy political and administrative axis of paralysis between the Custom House and the management in city and county halls.”

McDowell reckons that “south inner-city Dublin is an architectural, social, and planning nightmare. Waiting for private developers to assemble sites and then permitting them to erect ugly, discordant, developments with no sense of street, precinct or community, is disastrous.”

His final words in the column were: “If we are serious about building beautiful, living cities, we need bodies with the vision and the powers to make that happen.” Oh how so true too of this, The City of the Tribes.

Galway needs a city architect

Let Insider conclude by saying our planning authorities could make more use of Local Area Plans. These are intended to ensure proper public consultation, and allow people to be involved in consultation about what gets built in their own city. The Galway City Council said it does not have "the resources to do this” and our current collection of elected councillors do not appear to question these things much at all. Come back Padraig Conneelly. Colette Connolly needs your support!

The council, with one or two notable exceptions, continue to oversee the waste of millions on planning of grandiose projects, including those which may now never happen, such as the N6 Ring Road and the port extension. Having administrators in control of planning instead of having an actual Office of City Architect, led by a professional with ambition, is a continuing sore which is a poor position to be in for a city that wants to get ahead and do better.


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