In every era in history, there is watershed in which what was acceptable before is no longer the norm, that what was expected is no longer expected, that what was tolerated was no longer allowed to be the dominant way of thinking.
On Friday as more than 200 people gathered on the Centre Pier at the docks to welcome the launch of the plans to build a new Galway Port, there was a whiff of positivity in the air as the heads of industry, politics, and culture in the city got together to lend their support to a project that will transform this century for Galwegians.
And in that crowd, there was a feeling that this plan should not have to face the same sort of heart-wrenching, soul-searching, head-scratching that has bedeviled every single infrastructural project in this city.
This is the biggest construction project to ever be held in Galway, yet it comes at a remarkably cheap price of just €50 million, the price of a shedload of e-voting machines (as quipped by Dep Padraic McCormack ). This €50 million will complete Stage One of the project — the stage that will see the development of a new port, the creation of new sailways for the cruiseliners and the reclamation of vast areas of land. If that phase gets done, the rest will fall into place and the city will have a harbour and a port to be the envy of Europe.
At the moment, Galway's harbour, being tidal, can only operate for four out of every 24 hours, so it is massively handicapped. By the end of next year, work will begin on removing this obstacle, but the Harbour Board members are now looking for local people's opinions on the plans, so that together with all parties, they can move forward to what will be a smooth and conflict-free planning process.
There was more than just a wry grin and eyes thrown to the sky when one local politician said that people’s objections to these plans should in future not be referred to as “objections,” but submissions,” but no matter what you paint them up as, it is preferable if the matters are addressed now and not later when they just add to the cost and duration of the project.
I am not saying that there ought not be any objections to these plans. If there is good reason for people to oppose them, then well and good. But let those objections be heard now before the plans are submitted for planning permission. Let them be dealt with and addressed by the Galway Harbour Company so that compromise can be found, so that concerns can be laid to rest.
Friday's launch was attended by many politicians and business people, many of whom used the opportunity to let the assembled crowd know that they were there and that they backed the project. But the best questions, and the best supports came from people who represented the real people of the city, the people who want to cast a line off the end of the pier, the people who bring disadvantaged kids out on water sports, the people who grew up looking at the docks through its various incarnations.
With more than 200 people in attendance at the official launch of the Galway Harbour Company Public Consultation Process and another 300 in attendance over the two day consultation period, Eamon Bradshaw Galway Harbour Company CEO is feeling optimistic about the next stages of the planning process.
He said: “It was great to see such a turn out and to see just how genuinely interested the people of Galway are in the future of their port.
“We have a long journey ahead of us in terms of making the redevelopment a reality, but with the genuine positive support and high level of public engagement being offered at the moment it is heartening for us as we continue with the planning process”
Galway Harbour Company plans to submit its proposed port redevelopment plan to An Bord Pleanála in April. Following the submission it could take up to twelve months before a decision could be made.
Galway Harbour Company has dedicated a lot of time to the consultation process, have revised, reviewed and reshaped their proposal in the hope that it will be successful.
Stage One is vital for Galway Port as it will allow for the dredging of a deeper water channel to accommodate larger vessels including cruise liners and the redeployment of the working port to its new location away from the inner dock. By moving the working port from the inner dock area the port will no longer be restricted by the current gated system which only allows the port to operate four hours out of every 24 hour period.
Mr Bradshaw stressed “The current restrictions on the port are making it impossible for Galway Harbour Company to compete with other ports and if we cannot compete we cannot survive as a commercial port. We can only ensure the future of the port in terms of its economic benefit to Galway city if we can redevelop”
“There is an underlying sentiment that the port plan should be integrated with any future development of Ceannt Station. Galway Harbour Company formed a working group under Professor Loughlin Kealy from UCD who is a prominent architect, to ensure that such integration was feasible; the findings from Prof. Kealy were presented to Galway City Council at an open meeting and were well received. However my responsibility is to the port of Galway and its future survival and we can no longer simply wait for such an integrated plan to be finalised. The completion of Stage 1 of the port redevelopment plan will not in any way interfere with future integration plans and we must proceed with it as a matter of urgency.”
The vision of Galway City becoming a “waterfront” city attracting some of the world’s largest cruise liners and capitalising on more events like the Volvo Ocean Race is capturing a mood of quite optimism among most Galwegians, as very few disagree that the Galway port needs to continue to grow and develop in order to remain competitive and attract new business to the city and surrounding areas.
The matter of developing the port in conjunction with Ceannt Station redevelopment was raised at the meeting by Cllr Colette Connolly, who was told by Mr Bradshaw that the Ceannt Station development could take years — time which Galway Port does not have. She also expressed concerns about the traffic congestion during the construction process, but the board stated that several options are in place to minimize traffic, and that in any case, most of the material for the project will be coming in on barges from sea.
Harbour Board chairman Paul Carey told the event of his long held fascination with the sea and of watching and noting the large ships and their names. However, he bemoans the fact that these ships no longer frequent Galway as they are attracted to larger non-tidal ports which are more flexible to their needs.
Mr Bradshaw stated that when drawing up their plans, the Harbour Board looked at every port in the world and it drew on the best of those to ensure that the new Galway port will be compatible with any of them.
At the moment, Galway Port is not competitive so it has to undertake this project or die. He said that once completed, Galway can become the Villa Moura of Northern Europe, with thousands of sailors berthed in the new marina and the air of the Volvo renewed.
Architect David Heffernan who was in the audience expressed the hope that the waterfront city would not become just a rich real estate location, as has happened with the development of London's Docklands; while businessman Noel Holland who runs Galway Bay Seafoods on the docks said that he would like to be reassured about the problem of traffic congestion.
Salthill resident Don McNamara asked as to who would own the foreshore on which the land for much of this will be reclaimed and he was told by Mr Bradshaw that the foreshore is owned by the State which will issue a foreshore licence for this project. The land will then remain in the ownership of the State. Sen Fidelma Healy Eames asked where the funding would come from and was told that it would have to be raised by the Board, with the possible use of PPP and private investment. Paul Carey said that in this regard, Galway would benefit from the glut of land reclamation equipment that currently lies unused in Dubai and would be available at a cost much cheaper than in the past.
Nancy Roe of Galway Seasports Associations said that she was welcoming the plan for the small people of the town, the disabled and the disadvantaged would be able to avail of the new sheltered watersports area. She also spoke of the ability of the new port to attract dinghy meetings which can bring thousands of people in over a weekend. Cllr Hildegarde Naughton proposed that international architects be invited to help design aspects of it, but this was dismissed by Chamber president Carmel Brennan who said that local architects would be preferred and that the project should be seen to use as many local resources as possible.
The meeting was told of the benefit of cruise liners and that meetings with Miami-based cruise companies have already taken place, in which great interest has been expressed in developing cruise routes including Galway.
Delegates from the world's top cruise line companies are coming to Galway in May to see at first hand what the city has to offer in terms of being a medieval city, its arts and culture and the welcome of its people.
The impact of that 4am welcome to the Volvo Ocean Race reverberated around the world. Now tourists and tour operators know that the people of Galway are a welcoming sort who are glad to see visitors and that image has already sold Galway to the cruise line operators.
All of the proposed plans for the redevelopment of the port are available to download and view in English and Irish on www.galwayharbour.com and all comment and questions are most welcome. The Galway Advertiser will be facilitating the consultation process in the newspaper and on our electronic media, so we encourage all of you to take a look at the plans and form an opinion. Use the harbour board website or our pages to express that opinion so that consensus can be reached and work can progress on the project.
Much has been made of the dire future for the coming generations and of the legacy our political generation has bestowed them. Here in Galway we can leave them something to work with this century by opening up Galway to the world, by facing it towards the sea and changing forever the face and feel of the city.