COUNCILLORS in Galway city have voted to expand the 33m Briarhill shopping centre in the suburb of Doughiska despite strong opposition from local residents and planning officials. A 1.4-hectare residential site part owned by a Fine Gael councillor is to be rezoned commercial to facilitate the expansion of the centre despite claims by city manager Joe Mc Grath that there is already "sufficient zoned land in the area". Councillor Brian Walsh, who has a 5% stake in the land, with local developer Liam Mulryan owning the remainder, left a recent council meeting during heated discussions on the issue. Residents claim their concerns over poor local infrastructure, particularly the inadequate roads network, have been ignored by politicians who have reneged on earlier promises to improve public facilities in the area.
"The feeling is that if you are a rich property developer then you jump to the top of the queue and get what you want, whereas if you are looking for traffic lights or footpaths then you go to the back, " says Doughiska residents association, spokesperson, Fearghal Wall. "We are looking for basic infrastructure, not an extended shopping centre.
The entry to the centre from the Dublin road is an absolute disgrace, if a bus and a car are passing in opposite directions then it's gridlocked.
"All the councillors are going on about how they are going to get this and that for the area but then they go and pass a motion which will bring in more industry and traffic."
The existing shopping centre, which opened in October has been broadly welcomed by local residents who had complained of the absence of retail facilities in the suburb, located five miles from Galway city. The 14,887sq m (160,242sq ft) centre is anchored by Dunnes Stores and includes 16 units of various sizes, office space, 22 two-bed apartments and 554 parking spaces on ground and basement levels. The planned expansion will almost double the size of the centre and will involve extending the Dunnes outlet and building a drive through restaurant and a petrol filling station. The centre is expected to create 300 jobs when fully operational.
Architect Paul Dillon says he is anxious to address the concerns of local residents when designing the extension to the development. "Our design team is now starting work on this phase and as part of the design process we intend to address all of the concerns which have been raised locally and any input from residents will be well received."
"Briarhill is already a huge shopping centre, " says Labour councillor, Tom Costello. "But it's this second phase of the scheme which is to include further commercial development that's worrying local people. They're concerned about heavy trucks offloading goods in a confined space. The planned restaurant will also mean there will be a lot of activity at various times in the area. It could be said that the real decision on this has now been taken although when the planning submission is made there will at least be an opportunity to look again at the proposals."