A Minister of State has intervened to prevent Galway City Council from allowing homes to be constructed on a floodplain which was previously designated for recreation and water-based activity.
The Minister of State for Housing Peter Burke wrote to the local authority on Friday, directing it to change 26 separate elements of the newly -ratified Galway City Development Plan 2023-2029, including the rezoning of a 1.3-hectare site on the Headford Road. This large parcel of land, which is situated below sea level, is designated as a flood zone A area by the Office of Public Works (OPW), meaning that “vulnerable usage” such as housing should not be considered there.
It was also identified as a flood risk in the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management report.
Despite objections from the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), councillors voted to ignore the recommendation of their own chief executive, Brendan McGrath, and rezone the Headford Road site for residential use during final deliberations over the city development plan in late December.
This vote prompted the OPR to contact the Department of the Housing, and requested that it intervene to force Galway City Council to change its development plan.
Local Green Party councillor Niall Murphy, who was one of just four councillors to vote against the rezoning in December, said it would be “completely hypocritical” to rezone this land while also demanding greater flood defences for the city.
“Other parts of this development plan say that we must adopt nature-based approaches to flood management. This means providing enough green space to soak up some of the rainwater so that it slows the rate at which the water gathers downstream. Zoning for residential use at this Headford Road location completely contradicts that plan,” he said.
“Once you cover an area like this in concrete the water has to go somewhere. So we suffer on the double. Those who built in the floodplain suffer damage to their property and somewhere downstream an area that never flooded before is now flooding due to runoff from the built-up area.
“As a councillor it would be completely hypocritical of me to vote to zone these areas for building and then later call on the council to improve flood defences for the city, a problem made worse by these zoning decisions.”
The decision to rezone the 1.3 hectare site as residential was proposed by Fine Gael councillor Frank Fahy.
“To say that this land should only be for water-based activity is not correct. To say that all of this land is a floodplain is also incorrect,” he said during December’s meeting to ratify the Galway City Development Plan. “It is below sea level but because of the dyke it is not going to flood. There is a bit of land at the bottom [of the site] which is a flood risk, but I would imagine if plans do go forward for this site that area would be left open. Some of the land is borderline [flood risk] but not all of it.”
The 1.3 hectare site is located on the Headford Road overlooking Terryland Forest Park, less than 2km from Eyre Square.
Galway City Council now has an opportunity to respond to the Minister’s directions, but it is expected that all 26 changes recommended by the OPR will become part of the Galway City Development Plan.
This is the first Galway City Development Plan to be written since the establishment of the OPR in 2019. The role of the OPR is to insure that local development plans are in line with national regulations and policy. It also has the power to refer decisions made by local authorities to the Minister for the Housing.
* This article was amended on Sunday, January 15th as it was incorrectly stated the Minister for Environment had intervened when, in fact, it was the Minister of State for Housing