The shortage of accommodation in Galway has passed crisis point according to Galway West TD Noel Grealish, who has called for sweeping changes to the planning system.
He said the shortage of available places to stay also posed a huge problem for the more than 25,000 students returning to college at NUI Galway and GMIT in the coming weeks.
Grealish is calling on the Government to set up a task force to tackle the problem, and bring in new measures to fast-track the planning process for the construction of new houses. Unless something is done to increase the supply of accommodation generally in Galway, he feels the city could soon start to suffer in terms of its ability to attract inward investment and jobs.
“This will have knock-on effects, there is no doubt about that,” Grealish says. “It will impact on Galway’s ability to attract international companies if the workers they would hope to employ can’t find a place to live. At the moment, once a place goes on the market for rent, you could have hundreds of people enquiring about that single property.”
Grealish says that the coming weeks will see the shortage of accommodation brought into sharp focus with thousands of students returning to or starting college: “I am aware that NUI Galway has been ringing auctioneers, even looking for commercial buildings, to see can they be converted into student accommodation,” he revealed
In the Merlin Park area, Gleann na Rí, a complex that was purpose-built to cater for students attending GMIT, is now being let out to non-students as the 10-year tax break facilitating its availability to students has ended. That means there is less accommodation for up to 600 students in the coming academic year.
“The whole situation has gone beyond a crisis, it’s a huge problem for both students and non-students. We’re talking about the economic future of the city. The students bring in so much money, and for people who want to work and live in Galway, if we don’t have houses or apartments for them, it’s going to have serious repercussions.
Grealish says the Government needs to take a leaf from the book of the UK government, which recently announced an overhaul of the country’s planning laws and a series of measures to make it easier for new houses to be built: “The Cabinet needs to meet and set up a task force to find the best solution here. We need to fast-track the planning and building of houses.
“At the moment, between rezoning, going through the planning process, and possible appeals to An Bord Pleanála, it can take three years for a builder to get into a green-field site and start building houses. We cannot wait for that any more. At the moment only a minuscule number of houses are being built in Galway city and the surrounding area.
“You could nearly count them on the fingers of two hands. Galway is still a fast growing city, attracting many international companies to come and invest in Galway, but the onus is on us as politicians and on the Government to ensure that there is adequate accommodation for the students and for people who want to work and live in the city. The system we have now is simply too slow to meet the need that is there.”