By Olivia Hanna
The Westwood Hotel in Newcastle closed its doors on 1 October after being purchased in June 2017 by the Ziggurat Student Investment Fund.
The Westwood is currently being demolished to make way for student accommodation to be built on the site. The proposal, approved by An Bord Pleanála last month, includes five blocks of apartments, making up a total of 63 apartments that will house up to 394 students.
While the new accommodation is expected to help relieve the student housing crisis, the development has been highly contested by local residents.
Residents set up a committee called Save The Westwood Hotel Campaign, which is against the dismantling of the hotel and the development of the residences.
Committee chairperson Basil Fenton spoke with SIN to explain why the local residents wanted to keep The Westwood.
“This closure is a loss… it is removing the centrepiece/heart of the community. The secret is in the name of our campaign: Save the Westwood Hotel. Our objections are many and totally ignored by An Bord Pleanála.”
Fenton then shares why residents oppose the new construction; “[reasons for opposition] include the unsuitable location to plank a high rise residential accommodation in the middle of an established residential community.”
“We object to the imposition, irrespective of who resides in the new buildings. The fact that it is going to be students rubs salt in the wound.”
“The University has more than enough space to accommodate the building of such accommodation in their own property, in a much nicer and more suitable and spacious [way], with direct access to University and its many facilities.”
But the residents did not feel as if their concerns were heard. “Three public meetings were held to ascertain the feelings of the community, and based on the very large participation and feelings of anger and dismay, the campaign was launched and publicly monitored.”
“Neither the University Management or Developers availed of these public meetings to present their case. Public representatives did and vocally and actively supported the campaign.”
“A committee was formed after the first meeting. This committee had a meeting with three members of the purchasing team and student management. They outlined their plans and committed to engage and respect the community concerns.”
“Last we heard from them, until shortly before the end of the public responses to the planning notice, they requested a meeting at such short notice that no suitable person was available from the committee.”
“After the second public meeting, we hired a planning consultant to guide and advise. The third meeting was to ensure that everyone understood the objection process and that all relevant objections were noted.”
“83 planning submissions were sent outlining all objections, and those also sent by public representatives. All of these were totally ignored by An Bord Pleanála, and everything the developer had requested was granted. Our request for an oral hearing was also dismissed out of hand.”
In August 2017, former GMIT and NUI Galway Student’s Union Presidents issued a statement against this strong opposition.
Former NUI Galway President Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh said; “A few years ago, redevelopment and increasing capacity of Trinity Hall in Rathgar was met with resistance of the local community, protesting against over – concentration of students in that area.”
“Today, the Hall that accommodates 1,000 students is well integrated into the 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.”
Despite being highly contested, the residences are expected to be open by September of 2020.