Transfer of lands to save council millions

A number of sites purchased by the Galway City Council are to be transferred to the land aggregation scheme in a bid to save more than €25 million in loan repayments.

However the move was strongly criticised by Independent councillor Catherine Connolly who said it “makes no sense and compounds the housing crisis in Galway”.

Two sites at Ballyburke and Kerraun, which do not have any planning permission, were bought by the council in 2006 with the intention of building social and private housing.

The sites were scheduled for building works in 2007, however economic difficulties prevented the council from progressing with the project. “We went to market with the sites, but when we ran into the crash we couldn’t do anything with them,” said senior executive housing officer Frances Mullarkey.

Councillors were advised by executives that a total of 20 acres must be transferred to the Government to shift the burden of loans incurred from their purchase.

To date no repayments have been made on the loans, as they are not due for redemption until 2013. City manager Joe O’Neill stressed the importance of handing over the lands immediately to ensure the cash-strapped council avoid paying up to €120,000 per month for lands it cannot use.

Councillors were worried about losing control of the lands, and handing it over at a cost, however Mr Mullarkey stated: “They won’t touch the land or do anything with it without consulting the council. Hopefully we will be able to use it in the future for social housing or a buy to lease scheme.”

Part of the lands bought at Ballyburke was used to build Knocknacarra national school. The land and access currently used by the school will not be transferred to the land aggregation scheme.

It was agreed by councillors, by majority vote (13 to 2 ), that permission be given to hand over the lands so long as the council be consulted on any possible use in the future.

Acting city manager Joe O’Neill said that the transfer of the lands is only two of several tranches of land the council is looking to off-load in the future.

Cllr Connolly described the situation as “some form of creative accounting by the Government” which is “depriving Galway city of essential residential land”.

The latest housing report confirms there are more than 4,757 households on the housing waiting list with 3,696 in the financial category, ie, unable to purchase a home of their own. The average waiting time for those on the list is seven years.

“Given this crisis it is extraordinary that the majority of city councillors voted to give back more residential land to a body in Dublin without any idea as to what this body wants it for,” she said.

Cllr Connolly tabled a motion which was unanimously accepted by councillors that representatives from the Dublin body should come to Galway “as a matter of urgency” and make a presentation to the city council and answer questions.

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