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Back to basics for Galway Harbour scheme.

By Ian Lumley.

Galway Harbour Company is seeking permission for the development of a 27-hectare, €52m extension of the harbour, which will include the creation of commercial quays, a deep-water docking facility and the reclamation of lands from the sea.

The State-owned company wants a new commercial harbour to accommodate ships up to 40,000 tonnes for Topaz and the local quarry and scrap trade, with infill and a jetty sticking out into the European Habitats and Birds Directive protected bay. The case was heard at a planning hearing in Galway over much of January.

The Harbour Company has been following a property development policy since the mid 1980s, when it started selling off surplus sites to builders who went on to construct the Dun Aengus apartments, and the hotel and apartments developed opposite at Richardson’s Bend, as well as the site of the former Shell Oil tank farm which has yet to be built on while its new owner, Gerry Barrett, negotiates with NAMA.

The 2011 Bord Snip report considered it “evident that there are too many ports for the trade available that……the sector would benefit from a rationalisation of ownership/management structures. Separate boards, management, auditors and investment plans, are difficult to justify for companies which in some cases have annual turnover of €1 million or less”. Galway’s was around €3.5m in 2013.

Denis O’Brien’s Topaz wants to increase its oil import business through the tank facility in Galway city, currently limited to ships of 5,000 tonnes. However the real commercial driver of the project is the international bitumen supply company Cold Chon which has a tank depot for Irish distribution in Galway, but now wants to bring Shell-sourced bitumen from North America in 40,000-tonne tankers, for transhipment in 5,000-tonne tankers to other European ports. The accommodation of Galway as a base for offshore oil and gas drilling, with renewables mentioned as a worthy sop, was also a major part of the case made.

Bizarrely, a huge climate-change-indifferent rent-a-crowd, including local politicians, seemed to think all of this a good idea. The business world in Galway was dazzled by the dressing up of the project as a means to accommodate spiffing berthage for cash-rich cruise-liner passengers popping in to buy Aran cardigans, take bus tours all over Connemara, and absorb the ubiquitous craic, presemably, on the odd few days when petroleum ships would not be docking.

The increase of flood risk to Galway city centre, and the inadequate road connection from the port to the national road system which threatens to engulf the city centre in traffic seems to have escaped most local concern.

The case for Galway Harbour Company was presented by barrister Esmond Keane SC – well known in the Irish anti-environmental world through his representation of Shell and EP Ireland in the Corrib gas saga and for his shepherding of the M3 motorway scheme near ancient, mystic Tara.
Some of the most vicious cross-examination I have ever seen at a hearing came when he launched into Mary Hughes, President of the Irish Planning Institute, who was representing Shannon Foynes port, and simply arguing that the scheme contravened the 2013 National Ports Policy, which designated five National ports including Foynes, with Galway only having Regional status.

While climate rarely seems to impinge on plan-driven An Bord Pleanála, the following problems may:
The 2013 National Ports Policy, which outlined a plan-led strategy, defined a 3-three-tier rating system for ports. The Galway Harbour Extension proposal for a Tier 3 regional port, without direct connection to the national road network, contravenes this national strategy.
The plan is based on a flawed socio-economic model of continued fossil-fuel, resource-ravaging and biodiversity-diminishing short term economic development. The Plan facilitates the unsustainable increase in imported fossil fuel and petroleum products and had no integration with the required transition to a low carbon future.
The plan worsens HGV and oil-tanker traffic through the urban area of Galway, from Lough Atalia Road to the national roads network.
The national ‘low-carbon road map’ provided under current Government policy will require the progressive reduction of import of coal, oil and other products leaving port space at Foynes redundant, and obviating the case for new capacity in Galway.
Galway port needs to integrate with the urgent strategic planning needed to protect Galway city from rising sea levels and increased exposure to Atlantic storms.
The development constitutes an intervention in a candidate EU-designated Special Area for Conservation and Special Protection Area for birds which the applicants consultants have accepted to be “significant”. •

Ian Lumley presented the case for An Taisce at the recent oral hearing in Galway on its port extension.