Ballyburke causes major row in final city council meeting

The last meeting of Galway City Council descended into chaos this week when land ownership questions and compromise motions regarding rights of access into a proposed town centre near Knocknacarra upended proceedings.

Architect's impression of Ballyburke town centre development

Architect's impression of Ballyburke town centre development

Councillors were voting to approve plans for a community retail centre, creche, cafe, outdoor ampitheatre, 84 south-facing social housing units with sea views, and a landscaped plaza behind Colaiste na Corribe secondary school off the Ballymoneen Road.

The new car-free urban hub is to be finished in the same bright white materials as the nearby Clairin estate, including a six-storey town centre block built at the lowest sloping part of the site.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF ) stunned councillors and officials with an assertion that the developer of a nearby estate had retained property rights theoretically enabling him to block assumed access to the local authority’s land, while Councillor Donal Lyons (Ind ) insisted on tabling a motion which officials warned would jeopardise the entire development, forcing them to return with new plans for a much denser housing scheme under revised government guidelines.

Suffice to say, there was an almighty row which resulted in a majority of councillors voting to approve the scheme after city officials, including the new chief executive Leonard Cleary attending his first full council meeting, hammered out last-minute compromises.

The lands in the townland of Ballyburke were purchased by Galway City Council over two decades ago with an €8.3 million loan. The local authority has paid approximately €6.3 million in interest since 2013 on that loan, based on €630,000 per annum payments. It is understood the €8.3m principal amount remains outstanding.

A bespoke deal negotiated between senior city executives and the Department of Housing means central government exchequer funds will pay off the local authority’s loan for Ballyburke lands, provided fast-build social housing is constructed on it.

Residents of estates Drisín and Maoilín, which envelop Ballyburke lands, have been lobbying local politicians on the proposed development, announced in January. A number of city councillors said the majority of representations regard concerns about their neighbourhoods becoming traffic rat runs alongside the Ballymoneen Road when the Ballyburke development is connected to them.

Debate in the chamber became heated, with a number of councillors demanding fellow members withdraw unreportable, pejorative comments on social housing inhabitants, each others’ professional activities outside the chamber, appropriate mandates, bias and even volume. Phew.

“I don’t know how Drisín got planning permission in the first place,” demanded Cllr Lyons. “There are no footpaths in it. The Ballymoneen Road lacks paths and bus infrastructure so not suitable for further development.” He tabled a motion to block vehicular and pedestrian access to Ballyburke from existing estates, and reduce proposed building heights.

“What’s wrong with pedestrians?” asked Councillor Mike Cubbard (Ind ), but he never got a reply.

However it was Peter Keane’s assertion that easements linked with thoroughfares built within Drisín and Maoilín were retained by the original land owners, thereby making road connections to new developments legally complex, which threw a High Court-shaped spanner in the works.

“The City Development Plan doesn’t trump property rights” argued Keane. “What legal right does Galway City Council have to traverse Drisín? We need legal clarification.”

Officials referred to legal precedents of implicit permission linked with Lissadell House, Co Sligo, and Fingal County Hall, but a sense of panic began to develop.

Fellow city west councillor Níall McNelis (Lab ) said it would be a travesty if the current council’s last action was to torpedo housing during a national housing crisis, although he agreed rat run concerns were a reality.

“I agree [with Lyons] Drisín should never have been given permission. No pavements, no ramps and there has already been one child knocked over. It’s one big cul-de-sac.” McNelis warned the new chief executive from Co Clare: “Wait until you see the mess in Knocknacarra. You’re in for a shock.”

Councillor Colette Connolly (Ind ) referred to the Ballymoneen Road as a “Connemara bóithrín” handling city traffic. “I’m concerned about children’s safety. It has been successive governments’ policy to allow multiple private developments before infrastructure is built.”

Normally the final meeting of a city council is an amicable affair, with staff thanked and the last mayor buying pints, but with tempers flaring Mayor Eddie Hoare (FG ) adjourned proceedings for five minutes as dusk approached.

Officials scrambled for a compromise motion which would allow the development to proceed, with 11 of the city’s 18 councillors eventually approving the Ballyburke development, providing some road entrances will be for emergency vehicles only.

However the next city council is comprised after the June elections, Ballyburke is sure to be one of many housing puzzles for new members to solve.


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