A 25,000 seater stadium for use by rugby, soccer, and the GAA, along with a sports centre of excellence, should be the aim of any future plans for the Galway Airport site in Carnmore.
This is the view of the Fine Gael Mayor of Coounty Galway Liam Carroll, who brokered the deal this week that saw the purchase of the former airport site by the Galway County Council and Galway City Council for €1.1 million.
The councils bought the 115 site, which includes the former terminal building and two hangars, “for the future economic development of the city, county, and region”.
Mayor Carroll is now calling for the site to be earmarked for the development of a 25,000 seater covered, floodlit, stadium, with car parking and a conference centre, that could be used by the three main sporting codes in Ireland.
“For the future development of this site we must be creative in our thinking,” Mayor Carroll told the Galway Advertiser. “We should get the GAA, Connacht Rugby, and the FAI to knock heads together and see how all could use such a facility as has been done with the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park.”
Any future use of the airport and other assets would have to be jointly agreed by both councils and demonstrated that it could support the region’s economic development.
Mayor Carroll believes the stadium would fulfil such a role.
“Galway and the west deserves a facility like this,” he said, “and I believe it would attract support and high attendances. Given that it is a 115 acre site there could also be potential room for a technology park. The enterprise would also be very well located in that it is close to the motorway and the Oranmore Railway Station. It would have a beneficial effect upon the local economy.”
The city and county councils, in a joint statement issued on Tuesday, noted that the former airport site “is a significant asset located adjacent to the M6 Dublin - Galway motorway and the new Oranmore station”.
Although the purchase has been a broadly welcomed, there has also been criticism. Questions have been raised over spending €1.1 million at a time when Government cuts are impacting on front-line local authority services.
However Mayor Carroll points out that the money for the site has come from capital funding and “will not have an effect on services”. He pointed out that that the cost for each local authority is €550,000 and that when worked out over a 25 year loan “works out as a very minuscule amount of money per annum for a 115 acre site”.
The decision to purchase the site has been welcomed by the Galway Chamber of Commerce. “The location and scale of the Galway Airport site make it a unique asset to Galway city and county,” said a chamber spokesperson. “It is desirable it continues to be held in public ownership and utilised to support the economic development of Galway.”
Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish and Independent county councillor Jim Cuddy have welcomed the purchase, but both are seeking a meeting with the county manager to discuss future plans for the facility.
“Before any decision is made regarding the use of the site, local people will have to be consulted and fully briefed on plans,” said Dep Grealish.
The licence under which Galway Airport has operated will be returned to the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport in the coming weeks. Cllr Cuddy fears this will have consequences for the Galway Flying Club, the parachute club, and the refuelling of search and rescue planes.
However Mayor Carroll said that use of the site, until such times as concrete plans emerge as to its future, will be a matter for negotiation and decision between any affected organisations and the city and county councils.