Galway Harbour could go into terminal decline unless a proposed €126 million redevelopment goes ahead, the second week of a full oral hearing into the project has heard.
The CEO of Galway Harbour, Eamon Bradshaw, told the An Bord Pleanála hearing that ships are sometimes left sitting off Mutton Island for long periods because the current port was effectively only open for four hours during any 24-hour cycle.
Mr Bradshaw pointed out that the new national ports policy identified the harbour as a strategic regional hub for petroleum, while its current location close to the city centre limited its potential for further expansion. The proposed redevelopment will also allow the port to accommodate cruise ships.
Mr Bradshaw said the board of Galway Harbour was obliged to look at the future of the port as a commercial entity capable of servicing the western region.
“The alternative was to see the port decline and with it the possible disappearance of a tradition of commercial trading from Galway going back over a 1,000 years,” he told the hearing.
Harbour master Brian Sheridan said Galway Harbour Company was advised as far back as October 2000 that trade would go into decline over 25 years without a process of relocating and upgrading.
“The operation of the harbour as it currently exists has become increasingly difficult over the past decade,” Mr Sheridan said. “This is largely due to the size of ships now calling at Galway. On a number of occasions, I have had to deny access of ships which I considered too large for the port, as the risk to the marine environment and public safety was too great.”
Captain Sheridan said the proposed relocation of an oil jetty would resolve risk and related planning issues: "For reasons of public health and safety, the relocation of the commercial business is imperative."
Support for project
In the morning, public representatives spoke in support of the project. Noel Grealish TD (Independent) said the redevelopment would give hope to the people of the region. He criticised the Shannon Foynes Port Company for objecting to the Galway development.
"Foynes seem to think they have a God-given right to take all the business from Donegal down to Kerry," Mr Grealish said. "The Foynes objection to Galway Port is without any sound basis and solely based on their own financial considerations.
“There was a time in history when Galway was a thriving international port. This proposed development gives Galway a chance to become a major name again.”
Brian Walsh TD (FG) said a port which only opens for four hours per day could not possibly compete with other facilities.
Businessman John Killeen of Cold Chon said his firm would use the expanded port as a European hub which would act as a central distribution location.
He said the success of the Volvo Ocean Race events in 2009 and 2012 showcased the benefit of having an inner city port in Galway, yet the restrictions imposed by the existing dock gates was a factor in the decision not to bring the race back to the city.
Planner Gus McCarthy, on behalf of the developers, said the proposed development would have a significant positive impact.
Mr McCarthy described the planned extension as "the least damaging option environmentally", in terms of meeting the objectives of the Galway Harbour Company and supporting the socio-economic wellbeing of the region.
‘Secure and gain employment’
Consultant Raymond Burke said the project would arrest the decline in the port’s core traffic, bring in new businesses and services, and enhance the west of Ireland’s reputation as a major maritime tourism and leisure location.
“The harbour extension will secure, safeguard and gain employment for its customers, it will ensure that businesses in the region that rely on the port remain viable and competitive, and provide the necessary connectivity to its hinterland that contributes to the economic sustainability of the region.”