Too many councillors have been willing to do the bidding of developers and this is why the city has far too much commercial/industrial zoned land.
This is the damning allegation which has been made by Fine Gael councillor and Galway West candidate Hildegarde Naughton, following Monday’s city council meeting.
At the meeting, councillors discussed the Galway City Development Plan, and numerous submissions which called for lands to be zoned commerical/industrial.
City Hall officials called on councillors not to support the re-zonings, which, they argue, has the potential to make high-street stores vacate the city centre, in order to locate in district centres in high population suburban areas. As a result this could leave the city centre largely empty of retail and damage the city’s economy.
Despite this a majority of councillors chose to rezone vast tracts of land. This led Cllr Naughton to accuse some of being too willing to do the bidding of developers.
“There is an elite who have been pulling the strings for the past 10 to 15 years and have councillors to do their bidding,” she said. “Since the last development plan councillors have zoned in excess of 150 hectares of land commercial /industrial, against the wishes and advice of planners.”
Speaking afterwards to the Galway Advertiser, Cllr Naughton said the city centre retains “great potential” but so much commercial/industrial zoned land makes it tempting for businesses to move to the district centres.
“Councillors may be put under pressure to rezone the land and might think they are doing the right thing - that is the most benign interpretation I can put on it,” she said.
Cllr Naughton would not be drawn on who such councillors might be, saying only that she was “criticising the system” and “those councillors who have voted for these rezoning, not only in this council, but in previous councils.”
Cllr Naughton said it is time all councillors say “enough is enough” regarding such rezoning. “It is time to put the public interest first,” she said. “I will stand up and speak out on this and say that there is enough commercial/industrial zoned land in the city.”
For part of Monday’s meeting, Cllr Brian Walsh had to take over the mayoral chair, after a row between Mayor Michael J Crowe and Independent Catherine Connolly saw Mayor Crowe leave the meeting in protest.
Cllr Walsh used his casting vote to block a controversial rezoning of land in Westside as a district centre. “The record will show that throughout the development plan process I have voted against the vast majority of these cases,” he said.
Labour councillor and Galway West candidate Derek Nolan said the rezoning “beggars belief” and “cannot be said to be made in the public interest”.
“I am dismayed at the result,” he said. “I believe it now necessary for the city council to refer these decisions to the Department of the Environment so that when a new minister is appointed, they can be overruled.”