Galway City Council tackles derelict housing in Galway

Galway City Council has recently submitted its plans for a new cultural centre and social housing building to the An Bord Pleanála, replacing derelict houses on Merchants Road.

If approved, the development of the terraced houses on 17-20 Merchants Road Lower is set to begin next year, building a proposed cultural centre and 12 social housing flats.

While still seeking approval of An Bord Pleanála, the proposed five-storey building is set to include five one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments, all with access to a roof terrace and a Cultural Venue on the ground floor.

Artist Renderings by Galway City Council

The new projects are expected to “strengthen the cultural area of the Pálás Cinema and the proposed Galway Museum extension”.

This will also facilitate the “greater movement of people down Shop Street, through Spanish Arch, and up Merchants Road back to Eyre Square,” says Galway City Council.

Funding of €4,200,00 has already been approved by the Department of Housing and construction is expected to begin in 2023.

These houses have been vacant since Galway City Council’s acquisition over 14 years ago in 2008, during which overgrown hedges have consumed the empty terraces.

Photos by Galway City Council

“They’ve sat there empty for over a decade. They’re somewhat emblematic of dereliction and the misuse of buildings in our city centre, and most disappointingly they represent this while in public ownership by the city council,” says Cllr Owen Hanley.

Once built, some of the apartments will be dedicated to the Housing First initiative, a national programme aimed at addressing homelessness for those affected by issues including “mental health, physical health, substance misuse, social, behavioural, and other challenges.”

Its focus on permanent and affordable housing aligns with the proposed Merchants Road apartments.

Artist renderings by Galway City Council

“Since 2019, Galway has been allocated a target of 3,000 Housing First units. Local authorities and service providers across the country recognize this as a hugely successful scheme and one that needs to be advanced. So the fact that this is also included in this proposal is really good to see,” Cllr Hanley says.

This comes amidst a continued rise in inflation for Galway’s housing market.

Galway City Council, according to reports from the Chief Executive and the housing department, currently own between 88-92 unoccupied homes, “a number of which are in the process of being given to new tenants while others are long-term voids,” Cllr Hanley says.

Voids are the term for vacant homes in Galway City Council’s housing stock. 16, of which, are long-term, such as the Merchant’s Road.

Developing voids such as the terraced houses on 17-20 Merchants Road Lower was made possible through “a funding opportunity from the government to tackle voids program. 47 voids were retrofitted as part of that and brought back into use,” Cllr Hanley says.

Plans to develop other voids are already underway, according to the Housing Department of Galway City Council, including 15 units on An Cliathan, Monivea Road, and 10 units on Upper Newcastle Road.

The land on Monivea Road was fully bought by Galway City Council in 2019 under the Derelict Sites Act, consisting of two derelict homes that have since been demolished.

Photos by Galway City Council

Galway City Council says they will build “a mix of 12 no. 2 bed units intended for elderly occupants and three no. 3 bed fully accessible units intended for families with particular disability needs.”

Stage four approval from the Department of Housing was granted in January 2022 and the contract has already been awarded, with works commencing on the site. “The overall programme is 15 months, with completion scheduled for Q2 2023,” Galway City Council says.

Artist rendering by Galway City Council

Such developments are necessary to begin tackling the housing crisis in Galway says Cllr Hanley: “If you look at the Galway City Council waiting list, overwhelmingly it is people waiting for one and two-bedroom units, be those small apartments, housing, a terraced duplex or whatever form they come in”.

Despite these efforts, Galway City continues to face rent inflation, with much of the housing market provided by the private sector. Cllr Hanley says this “isn’t to excuse the public responsibility.”

“So despite what seems to be increased attention from the government, the baseline figure is remaining the same. A number of years ago, Galway City Council had one of the slowest turnover times from when an attendant left a social housing to when it was relet to a new tenant. And I think that this is particularly important because the longer we leave a house unoccupied, the more work will be required to put into it”.

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