NUI Galway Students’ Union and Galway-Mayo IT Students’ Union have rejected councillors and local residents’ opposition to the development of high end student accommodation in Galway city.
The local four-star Westwood Hotel was to be demolished and replaced by 400 student beds but the plan has been met with opposition from local residents, who have received support from Galway city councillors.
In July, approximately 200 people attended a “Save the Westwood Hotel Campaign” meeting to oppose plans to rezone the hotel site and built student accommodation in its place. A vote was held and the 200 attendees unanimously agreed to oppose the demolition of the hotel and the construction of student accommodation on the site.
The three city councillors who attended the meeting, namely Frank Fahy (FG),Ollie Crowe (FF) and Mark Lohan (SF), confirmed that they would block any attempt to rezone the site. Peter Keane (FF) has also announced his opposition.
NUI Galway Students Union and GMIT Students’ Union released a joint press statement expressing their displeasure at the opposition, arguing that “students have proven themselves to be valuable assets to any local community, and contribute to the local economy everyday”.
GMIT Students’ Union Mark O’Brien stated,“The language used by residents that there shouldn’t be student accommodation in ‘our estates’ is a classic example of Not In My Backyard”. He called the opposition “discriminatory” and said that councillors “should have heard all sides of the story first”.
Like elsewhere in Ireland, Galway is facing its own student accommodation crisis, with insufficient beds to accommodate the 20,000 students attending both GMIT and NUI Galway, as well as the additional thousands of students of other higher level institutes in the area.
NUI Galway Students’ Union President Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh commented on the opposition to the redevelopment and increased capacity of Trinity Hall in Rathgar from local residents, who expressed concern about an overpopulation of students in the Rathgar area. Ó Maoileannaigh stated: “Today, the Hall that accommodates 1,000 students is well integrated into community and offers student housing in a convenient location. Diverse and well-balanced local communities have a great potential for regeneration, civic activities and engagement.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kevin Keane commented that with regards to the opposition in Galway “the negative attitude of some local residents and Councillors to new and revitalised Student Accommodation is short sighted and extremely regrettable”. He echoed Ó Maoileannaigh’s comments regarding Trinity Hall, stating that “local residents near Trinity Hall tend to have an excellent relationship with our students, despite historical reservations prior to its construction”.
In the press statement, President of the Union of Students in Ireland, Michael Kerrigan, defended the two Students’ Union. He commented: “With the integrated national approach to student accommodation reflected in regional policies, we believe that both the Council and An Bord Pleanála have been equipped with tools to ensure balanced development of the communities and take a strategic approach to spatial distribution and concentration of particular social groups, particularly students, who are particularly vulnerable group facing the housing crisis.”
The Westwood Hotel has been making losses in the last number of years. In the year ending February 2016, it made a loss of just under €100,000, and had accumulated losses of €10.5 million at the end of the period. The hotel was subsequently sold to UK student accommodation giant Ziggurat, part of asset-management firm Atelier Property.