Galway docks plan being finalised


THE FUTURE of Galway is right in front of it: between the former Great Southern Hotel on Eyre Square and the sea. Indeed, local architect Roddy Mannion believes that the landbank lying beside Ceannt Station could meet most of the city’s growth to the end of this century.

Owned in parts by CIÉ, distressed property developer Gerry Barrett and the Galway Harbour Company, it amounts to a total of 14 hectares (34 acres). But despite being identified in 1999 as having great potential for an extension of the city centre, nothing has happened.

Mannion himself prepared plans for a mixed-use residential area in the docks while Seán Ó Laoire headed the design team for a similar scheme on CIÉ’s site. “If things hadn’t gone pear-shaped for Gerry Barrett, it would probably be up and running,” says acting city manager Joe O’Neill.

The docks element was partly dependent on the harbour company proceeding with its ambitious plans for a new port. This would extend almost 1km out to sea on 24 hectares (nearly 58 acres) of infill, or “land reclamation”, and include a marina with 216 berths.

These plans are only now being finalised in preparation for a “strategic infrastructure” application to An Bord Pleanála. Berthing facilities are envisaged for oil tankers as well as general cargo, passenger, container, fishing vessels and even cruise liners.

The vision for a new port is being put forward by a harbour company that’s seen its volume of trade fall from 959,000 tonnes carried by 419 ships in 2005 to 630,000 tonnes on 187 ships in 2010. That’s roughly one ship every two days, mostly transporting oil or bitumen.

The 2009 Report of the Review Group on State Assets Liabilities found that Galway port had the highest average cost per employee (€91.340 in 2009) and derived only 53 per cent of its income from port-related activities; the remaining 47 per cent came from car parking.

Parts of Galway Bay are covered by special areas of conservation and protection areas for birds under EU directives – a crucial factor that got in the way of Dublin Port’s controversial infill plans. The planned €800 urban regeneration of surplus land at Ceannt Station has been pigeonholed.

‘We don’t have all of the answers. we just want the conversation started’

WHAT’S MISSING in Galway is an overall vision, let alone consensus, on the future of the city. Derrick Hambleton, chairman of the Galway branch of An Taisce, says that “the same issues are still coming up year after year” as if the authorities haven’t been listening and aren’t prepared to change their plans.

In an effort to bridge this divide, the Galway 2040 initiative was launched in 2010 by Rory O’Connor, former managing director of Hewlett-Packard in Galway, and Paul Shelly, former president of Galway Chamber of Commerce, on the basis that it was better to do something rather than just “moan about it”.

Chicago-born Kevin Leyden, then honorary research professor of social science and public policy at the National University of Ireland in Galway and a member of the steering committee, said: “We don’t have all of the answers; we just want to get the conversation started and to include as many voices as possible.”

Leyden, who will be returning to a professorship at NUIG this autumn, explained that the initiative aimed to “set out a vision, directly influenced by the citizens of Galway city and county, of how they would like the city and region to be a generation from now. We want to get people thinking about possibilities for the future.”

Acting city manager Joe O’Neill recognises that both NUIG and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) represent a “massive resource” for the city.

“We’re collaborating with them on economic development, working with NUIG business school because we want to get a proper analysis of business in the city,” he said.

So far, however, there is no Galway equivalent of the relationship forged by Merritt Bucholz, head of the University of Limerick’s school of architecture and also from Chicago, with the local authorities on Shannonside in formulating a vision of a “Smarter Limerick” and working directly with them in drawing up plans.

Mr Hambleton, who has lived in Galway for more than 30 years, believes that there is an urgent need to hold “some kind of public conference, or convocation, which would allow public comment that could give guidance for our planners, management and councillors. This historic city deserves no less.”