Tuesday, 14 June 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions (resumed) - Priority Questions
57. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when he will complete the proposed greenway from Dublin to Galway; his views regarding the long delay of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15827/16]
That is okay. The Minister will be well aware of the fantastic greenway amenity that exists between Athlone and Mullingar. He came down to have a look at it a number of weeks ago. He will agree that this amenity will not reach its full potential until it has been finished and it extends right from the east coast to the west coast. The Minister's predecessor decided to shelve the project over 12 months ago. Is it a priority for the Minister to reinitiate this process? If so, could he outline clearly how he plans to deal with it until it is completed in its entirety? What is the expected timeframe in that regard?
A decision to pause the development of the Dublin to Galway greenway west of the River Shannon between Athlone and Galway was taken by my predecessor last October. Deputy Troy is correct when he says that I visited Athlone a few weeks ago to educate myself about greenways. He cannot be incorrect because I was delighted to meet him there. I was brought there by the Deputy's constituency colleague, Deputy Moran, who educated me in the benefits of greenways. I have to say I am a convert as a result of meeting everybody down there, including Deputy Troy. I understand the value for money and the attraction of this potential tourism bonanza. The decision mentioned by Deputy Troy was taken by my predecessor following receipt of an interim report from Transport Infrastructure for Ireland, which is a fairly constipated-sounding quango.
The outcome of the process of consultation between Transport Infrastructure for Ireland, Galway County Council, Roscommon County Council and landowners along the route suggested it would be wise to give everyone involved time to reflect on the issues raised and to consider the possibility of developing a new route that works locally and has the support of key landowners. While the vast majority of landowners along the Roscommon section of the preferred route were welcoming of the project, it was nevertheless felt that it would not be prudent to endeavour to make progress with this section in isolation, given that some issues requiring further consideration still remained. I hope we will reach a stage soon where there is support to move forward with this element of the project. In the meantime, I will examine potential funding options to deliver the sections of the Galway to Dublin greenway in counties Kildare and Meath that have planning permission in place and may be progressed quickly. The completion of these sections would allow for the provision of a fully off-road greenway from Maynooth to Athlone. The provision of this 100 km section, combined with the 26 km Mullingar to Abbeyshrule greenway, would provide a multi-day cycling experience which would be attractive to visitors from home and overseas.
The Minister is right when he says that this project represents great value for money. Westmeath County Council is to be complimented on the work it has done to date. If we are to get true value for money, we need to have the greenway open in its entirety. That is when we will really see its potential reached. Fáilte Ireland chose the most scenic and beautiful route from Athlone to Galway in order to attract tourists to use this product. I ask the Minister to move this development on by proceeding with the necessary negotiations with the relevant landowners and ensuring the project can advance. In some areas, ownership is not in question and there are disputes with local authorities, etc. As the Minister mentioned, planning permission has been approved for Meath, parts of Longford and parts of Athlone. Can he indicate when he will be in a position to provide the necessary funding to allow these links to proceed without delay?
It is a matter which has moved way up my list of priorities since I visited Athlone that day. I am not going to get involved in the rights and wrongs of the dispute or the difficulties which are obviously obstructing the progress of this greenway in the direction we had hoped. However, I am going to appeal and hope to do something in a more concrete way to ensure it will go ahead soon. The time for pausing is over. There was a pause called for and it was probably a good and sensible decision at the time. However, I am not familiar with the actual detail of the arguments between the various landowners and others in the area, but I will make an effort to see to it that they will put their heads together once again in order that we make a serious and energetic attempt to open the greenway with a great deal more speed. What the Deputy has said about the greenway is correct. Greenways have the potential to attract a significant number of tourists, particularly to the midlands. I will certainly do as much as I can in the Department to promote them and bring more tourists to the country.
I take it then that the “Pause” button has been released and that the Department will engage with the required landowners to ensure this section of the greenway can proceed. Based on the fact that when the Minister visited Athlone, we were able to convert him to the merits of the project, will he advise the local authorities of his funding intentions in the next 12, 24 and 36 months in that regard? That would allow them to make the necessary plans and put in place the necessary works schedules to ensure the sections of the greenway which already have the benefit of planning permission could proceed without further delay.