Wednesday, 11 November 2015
The approach taken to planning the greenway between Ballinasloe and Galway has led to a decision to pause the plans for the cycle way between Athlone and Galway. The fundamental problem is that the routing of the greenway through County Galway has taken a different approach from that taken on the eastern side of the River Shannon, where it was based on publicly owned lands along the canal and disused railways. Is the Minister committed to a greenway from Athlone to Galway and, if so, will he facilitate that by utilising existing public lands to the greatest extent possible?
As the Deputy will be aware, earlier this year, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I met representatives of landowners in that area and representative bodies, including the IFA. After that meeting, the Minister of State and I requested the project team tasked with delivering the western section of the Dublin to Galway greenway to commence a consultation process with landowners along the preferred route. A report was provided to the Minister of State and me, and we published it. We made it fully public because we want the matter to be in the public domain and be transparent.
Having discussed the report with my officials, and the Minister of State and I having considered the report's conclusion, our decision was to pause the further development of the Galway and Roscommon sections to allow time to reflect on the issues raised and to give consideration to the possibility of developing a new route that works locally and has the support of key landowners. I appreciate - this was evident in the report - that overall the level of support among landowners along the Roscommon section of the then preferred route was positive. That was one of the reasons we decided to publish the report. I wanted all that to be in the public domain. Based on our joint prospective, we could not progress with that section of the route in its entirety without being clear as to how we would deal with the Galway portion of the route.
In the interim, my Department will focus on completing the section of the greenway from Maynooth to Westmeath through Kildare and Meath, which has planning permission in place and is ready for development. The reason the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I met the landowners and the reason we decided to go ahead with other parts of the greenway was to make very clear our commitment to the completion of the overall project. A Dublin to Galway national greenway would be a massive piece of public infrastructure and I am committed to putting in place a process to complete that largest section.
I thank the Minister for acknowledging that there is considerable agreement on the section between Athlone and Ballinasloe. The reason for that agreement on the section through County Roscommon and part of County Galway is that about 40% of the route between Athlone and Ballinasloe is on publicly owned lands. Can the Minister give me an assurance that we will look at routing the greenway from Ballinasloe to Galway on existing publicly owned lands? As we know, over the next 15 years Bord na Móna will be pulling out of milled peat production. Much of its land bank in County Galway is not in production at the moment or will come out of production in due course. A significant land bank owned by Coillte is available. Does it not make more sense to try to map a route between Ballinasloe and Galway utilising those lands in so far as possible and then sitting down with the landowners in the other sections?
I will go to the heart of the Deputy's question on the use of private land. During the Easter school break earlier this year I had the opportunity to go to the greenway located in the county and constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. I observed the success of it running from Westport through Newport and Mulranny to Achill. Much of that greenway is located on and through private lands. Agreements were put in place based on the principle of permissive access regarding the use of that land. Using that land has delivered a project of extraordinary success because it has allowed cyclists and tourists, such as me, to see to the maximum the local communities and villages as well as the broader environment. Going through some farmland with the co-operation of the farmers has made it such a success.
The key point the Deputy put to me was whether I could give a guarantee that it could all go through public land. I am afraid I cannot.
The Deputy can put that question to me again then.
We have a process in place with TII and I will not prejudge the outcome of that, just as I did not prejudge the previous process that led to this conclusion.
I am disappointed that the Minister is failing to listen to me. I have been saying this since last February. I am probably the only public representative to say publicly that I want the greenway between Athlone and Galway to proceed. It will go through my parish and I am determined to see it go ahead. However, it can only proceed with the consent of landowners. In the example that has been given between Athlone and Ballinasloe it will go through public and private lands, which is the solution to this; it is a combination of both. The greenway between Westport and Achill goes through public and private lands, and that is the solution for the section from Ballinasloe to Galway.
Tremendous work has already been done, particularly by one individual, Anne Marie Johnson on Roscommon County Council. Will the Minister commit to bring the cycleway from Athlone to Ballinasloe, and even by physical segregation along the existing N6 as far as Aughrim? As the Minister knows, the 325th anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim will occur next July. We could create a siege cycleway from Athlone right through to Aughrim. I hope the Minister can give an indication that he is committed to such a development.
I am sorry but the Deputy earlier asked me to give a commitment on how the greenway would be built. I will not give that commitment when an independent body is in place to ascertain how it could be built. I will not prejudge what it might recommend or undermine its work in any way.
The overall Galway to Roscommon section, at more than 110 km, is the largest portion of it, as the Deputy will know. While the work is now under way to see how a new route could be delivered to try to meet the needs the Deputy has outlined, I have now decided that the Kildare and Meath portions of this should proceed and work will begin on those next year. I will not give any commitment on a new route simply because this work will be carried out by TII which will give us the best chance of getting a mix between public and private land while delivering a route that we know tourists and cyclists will want use.
I welcome that the Minister has said that the greenway from Maynooth to Mullingar will proceed. When will that be started? We are talking about the Royal Canal at the moment, but what plans does the Minister have for the greenway on the Grand Canal?
In answer to the Deputy's first question, I expect the preparatory work on the Kildare and Meath portions of the greenway will begin in the first half of next year. I expect those new portions of the greenway to be open by the summer of 2017, which will then allow us to have made much more progress on the first half of the greenway.
I am not in a position to say if further funding will be available in the coming months for the other greenway project the Deputy mentioned. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I want to deliver more greenways and we want to find new funding to make it happen. This process will ascertain if different kinds of greenways can be delivered, perhaps at lower cost, to meet the kinds of needs the Deputy has referred to.