The chief executive of Galway City Council has questioned whether any land available to the local authority would “pass muster” as suitable for social housing with An Bord Pleanála, following a series of high-profile planning refusals.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the local authority on Monday, Brendan McGrath admitted being “surprised and disappointed” by two recent decisions by the national planning authority to refused permission for close to 100 social houses in the city.
An Bord Pleanála came in for heavy criticism at the emergency meeting and were branded as “a basket case” who have “stolen Galway’s progress” by councillors.
Galway City Council also admitted that it was effectively powerless to police the number of short-term lets in the city, despite being in a Rent Pressure Zone.
Director of Services, Patricia Philbin, outlined a number of factors that prevented the council from policing short-term lets, including difficulty obtaining information because of GDPR legislation and the high burden of proof required for legal action to be taken.
Figures released from the local authority on Monday evening show that there are currently 4,499 people on the social housing waiting list in Galway city, or approximately one in every 18 city residents.
Council chief executive, Brendan McGrath, expressed his frustration that separate, long-planned, social housing projects at Keeraun and Castlegar were refused permission by An Bord Pleanála.
“We are not just taking a flyer that we might get planning, all of these projects went through an extensive pre-planning process,” he said.
“We were surprised and disappointed that Keeraun and Castlegar didn’t pass muster with An Bord Pleanála. It raises the question whether any site in Galway would pass that benchmark, because of where the land is located?
“We have a housing crisis. People want and need roofs over their head. The Castlegar land is probably no more than a 20 minute walk from Eyre Square.”
Mayor of Galway, Clodagh Higgins (Fine Gael), described the planning difficulties between the city council and An Bord Pleanála as “exceptionally concerning” and reiterated calls for a face-to-face meeting between the local authority and the Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien.
“An Bord Pleanála have stolen Galway’s progress. I think they should be renamed anti-Galway. I’m actually very angry about this, I think everyone around the table here today is angry about it,” she said.
Cllr Eddie Hoare (Fine Gael) described the decision to refuse planning permission for 71 social houses at the Keeraun development as a “kick in the teeth” and called for unspecified “emergency powers” to be used by the local authority.
“The planning system has failed us as a local authority, I don’t think it’s fit for purpose.
This is a planning crisis,” he said.
“Keeraun was a kick in the teeth for every one of us. I think emergency powers have to be used.”
The emergency meeting took place following a motion by councillor Niall McNeilis (Labour), who yesterday described An Bord Pleanála as “a basket case”.
Cllr McNeilus also expressed his frustration at the local authority’s inability to police the estimated 600 short-term-lets in Galway city.
“I am very, very disappointed to hear that [Galway City Council’s] hands are tied completely. COPE Galway and Galway Simon have both said tackling the situation with short-term lets would be an important, quick win for housing in Galway,” he said.
“As of today, we have 571 properties offering short-term lets across the city. We have families in hotels and tourists in houses, it makes no sense.”