Accusations that the HSE is attempting yet another “land grab” at the site of the Shantalla Neighbourhood Park were vehemently denied at Monday’s meeting of the Galway City Council where a motion calling for approval of Part 8 proposal for the provision of a €250,000 temporary helipad on the council owned land was eventually passed.
The HSE approached the local authority regarding the currently recreational/amenity zoned land after it became clear that the existing helipad, on the grounds of UHG, would have to be removed during the construction of a two tier 238 car parking facility. The Part 8 development is for the provision of a temporary emergency helicopter landing facility at Shantalla Community Park adjoining Seamus Quirke Road and Browne Roundabout, as well as new access to the hospital and the construction of a three metre trolley path. It is a condition of the approval that following the construction of the temporary landing facility it will be permitted to remain on the site for a period of six months, and that the HSE/UHG shall submit a detailed plan for the reinstatement of the lands to their original park usage.
In response to claims from some that this is a “land grab” attempt, director of services Ciaran Hayes told councillors: “It is not. This cannot proceed without your consent, there can’t be a permanent helipad legally given the zoning of the area. It is only possible to do this on a temporary basis”. He explained that the HSE had looked at a number of alternative options but that “the option before you is the most suitable”. Mr Hayes said that plan B had been council lands at South Park, but “the issue of distance from the hospital is critical when dealing with serious injuries,” and added: “Three to four flights a day use the helipad. This is an essential piece of infrastructure for a centre of excellence at the hospital.”
Cllr Catherine Connolly continued to maintain that there had been no consultation with the residents until last Sunday when a public meeting was held. At a meeting of the health forum on September 6 last she raised the issue, but the HSE “could not give me other options”. “There is 115 acres of land at Merlin Park, I never got a reason why they have not developed the land there. This is not about the hospital, this is about planning for a car park that will not add one single extra space to a congested site that is clearly not suited. It is time we called a halt to the overdevelopment of a site for a hospital that is not suitable,” said Cllr Connolly.
Also voicing her opposition was Cllr Colette Connolly who resented the Part 8 application being “presented as a crisis scenario” for critical patients needing a helipad. “This is a planning application for a two tier car park and to facilitate construction of a helipad on amenity recreation land. This is the fifth attempt made to take the park. There are many reasons why the residents do not trust the council or the HSE,” said Cllr Connolly, who later criticised the spending of €250,000 to provide staff car parking as a waste of taxpayers’ money. She added: “The existing helicopter pad provides emergency facilities for patients to be transferred in and out of the hospital - the residents of Shantalla are not against this, but the necessity to relocate the pad is not justified to facilitate a car park.”
Proposing a motion to support the Part 8 development Cllr Michael Crowe said it was “disingenuous to say there has been a lack of consultation” as despite advertising for submissions not one submission was received, and councillors had been informed about a meeting and asked for their opinions.
He added: “The HSE examined other areas but the distance was too great. There are 20 flights a week. With cardiac patients it is vital you arrive in time.
There are seven offshore islands served which is a vital aspect to this. It’s not just about what is coming in, but there are requirements for patients to go out, such as with brain injuries going to Dublin. The word temporary is mentioned 11 times in the report. It will culminate in a new radiotheraphy unit. It is incumbent on councillors to support this.”
Also urging support Cllr Niall McNelis said the development could go beyond six months as it would be against the Galway City Development Plan, and that this was the only location that would work. He also noted that out of 260 coastguard missions 37 per cent of the taskings were to the hospital helipad.
Seconding Cllr Crowe’s motion, Cllr Donal Lyons said he would support the development on the basis that it was temporary. He added that the building of the two tier car park at UHG would lead to a “much needed mental health and radiotheraphy unit being made available in the future”.
“It beggars belief that we’re even discussing this,” said Cllr Declan McDonnell, who added: “The HSE asked for a temporary site, they never asked for anything else. We gave out about the existing car park, that it wasn’t big enough, about the charges, and here is the hospital trying to improve it. The HSE looked at the airport, the barracks, Dangan, they tried to find a site. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to improve facilities at the hospital. I have no difficulty in supporting this project as it’s worthwhile in order to save lives.”
A vote taken on the motion put forward by Cllr Crowe resulted in 11 in favour and three against.