Monday 17 March 2008

Residents oppose plans for revamp of traditional Galway city area

RESIDENTS OF Galway city's "West" neighbourhood where writer Walter Macken was born have expressed opposition to "environmental improvements" proposed by Galway City Council.

The Small Crane and Henry Street "enhancement" scheme aims to "improve the quality of the public realm" with "landscaping, paving, public lighting", according to the council.

It also aims to "rationalise and co-ordinate" parking and traffic, and "promote an inclusive and accessible environment" in line with commitments to the Barcelona declaration on accessibility.

However, long-time "West" resident and arts administrator Paraic Breathnach says the plan is "no more than gentrification to facilitate a proposed hotel development nearby and to increase property values and rates". The plan "poses a serious threat to the fabric of a close-knit community", he says.

"This bourgeoisification is being introduced without adequate consultation, because the local authority is embarrassed about its industrial past," Mr Breathnach told The Irish Times.

As a century-old locality within walking distance of Galway city centre, the "West" was home to employees of mills, factories and workers on the Eglinton Canal. Its community atmosphere was captured by photographer Jane Talbot in an exhibition entitled Knock, Knock which was so successful that it was exhibited twice at Galway Arts Centre in 2006.

Ms Talbot has maintained gardens at Walter Macken's birthplace and other parts of the neighbourhood. She said that while she favoured proposals by the local authority to plant trees, she felt the whole scheme was "too much too soon" in an area ignored for years. "This a real, live residential area, not a shopping precinct," she said.

Sally O'Shaughnessy (77), who was born in her home in the "West", said that when the local authority owned the terraces it was "pure hell" to get repairs done. "Now, all of a sudden, you want to change everything in our area that we love so much," she has said in a submission to the local authority.

The West Residents Association has already filed objections to a plan to construct a multistorey hotel with conference, leisure and restaurant facilities on the site of the old Connaught Laundry in St Helen's Street.

The council denies the "enhancement scheme" is linked to any developer-led plans in the vicinity.

A council spokeswoman said that the model for the plan is available on its website, and it is hoped to submit the plan for approval of councillors within the next two months.

The Irish Times

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