Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
6. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when he expects the proposed greenway from Dublin to Galway to be completed; his proposals to resolve issues that have arisen among parties along the Athlone to Galway section; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33006/16]
The Minister will be familiar with the greenway between Mullingar and Athlone, and into Ballymahon. The Minister visited on a number of occasions. We have always welcomed him because, in fairness, he has made much-needed funding available. As I have always said when raising the need for additional funding in my constituency, the greenway will not reach its full potential until such time as it runs from Dublin across to Galway. There is a major issue between Athlone and Galway in progressing the next phase. I want to know today how the Minister intends to resolve the issues and concerns of the landowners affected in this area.
I seem to be spending more time discussing the issues in Athlone than anywhere else when I am answering questions on this particular body, partly, through no fault of Deputy Troy, because I seem to be familiar with those issues. This greenway is a good litmus test. It is a good question and I will address it.
My Department is developing a new strategy to set out a cohesive and forward-looking approach to the development, funding and promotion of greenways. As part of this process my Department will consult all stakeholders in the coming months. This proposed strategy will include a recommended approach to be taken by authorities and agencies tasked with delivering greenway infrastructure where engagement and consultation with landowners is required and, when finalised, will inform the approach to be taken to progress delivery of the section of the Galway to Dublin greenway between Athlone and Galway.
I was pleased to be in a position to award funding in July this year to a number of greenways where good progress was being made. This included funding for sections of the Galway to Dublin greenway in counties Kildare and Meath. The focus of this funding allocation was for those sections of the Galway to Dublin greenway where planning permission is in place and I expect that by the end of 2017 this will have facilitated progress on construction to the extent that it will be possible to cycle from Maynooth to Athlone entirely on segregated high-quality greenway.
I remain committed to achieving the delivery of this coast-to-coast greenway that will help to position Ireland as a destination for cycling holidays. I understand that the number of tourists cycling while on holiday in Ireland has increased significantly in recent years, from 66,000 in 2009 to more than 200,000 in 2015. While this is a small percentage of the total numbers visiting Ireland, it shows that there is a growing market for cycling tourism and this can be further exploited by a cohesive approach to the future development of greenways which I intend to pursue through the development of a new greenways strategy. I am determined to see this greenway in being and to clear it up.
I am glad the Minister has, once again, acknowledged that he is listening to what I am saying on this side of the House and when I requested additional funding for a part of this section, he granted it. This is a national scheme. It is not parochial. It is not unique to my constituency. It is for the betterment of the tourism sector in general. That is why we need it to run from Dublin to Galway and for the project to advance to the next stage.
The question I ask refers in particular to the section between Athlone and Galway because I am very familiar with the funding that has been made available to the other sections of the greenway. There is considerable concern and anxiety about the affected landowners between Athlone and Galway. That is why the project was shelved over 18 months ago, although I acknowledge it was before the Minister's time.
In order to advance this to the next stage, will the Minister and his officials agree to meet a group which has been set up and which is representative of people who are concerned about this section of the planned route? Will he meet and engage with them to see how we can overcome this impasse in order that we can come to an agreement, select a new route and move on so that construction can commence for the final leg of the project between Athlone and Galway?
I will consider that. If I think there is any useful purpose in meeting the landowners and any groups involved, I will consider doing so. I am not inclined to get involved in a local dispute if I think it will not do any good. It is very important that we consider, under the greenways policy, what we are going to do here. I understand the problems for landowners and the fact that they feel threatened by the possibility of compulsory purchase orders. My officials and I are determined to promote greenways throughout Ireland. The possibility of a coast to coast greenway of the sort envisaged here is something which we must turn into a reality. We will have to examine all the possibilities. Regarding rerouting, it was probably a mistake made by the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, initially in the preferred route it put down here and it was probably jumping the gun a bit.
I would be prepared to consider meeting the parties to which the Deputy referred if I thought it would be of any use. However, I will not meet them if I think it will be just another empty exercise. It is very important that this is done. If I see an opportunity for ministerial intervention which would do some good, I will certainly act accordingly. In the meantime, the previous Minister put this project on pause and talks are hopefully going to go ahead which will resolve this problem.
This is not simply a local dispute. It concerns a large section of the overall greenway project. Approximately 55% of the route of the greenway between Dublin and Galway goes through privately-owned land, yet no representatives of the owners of those lands were on the steering committee. That was a mistake. They should have been on the steering committee from the outset and had their voices heard. The reason the project has been very successful to date is because of the local buy-in from those in the areas where it has advanced. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, was in Coolnahay recently and he saw the success of local buy-in to the greenway project and he also saw that when he visited our region. The reason it has been so successful is that State-owned land has been used in those areas. There are alternatives here. I am a strong supporter of this project. I do not want to see it shelved and fall off the cliff, as it were, in Athlone. I want it to go all the way to Galway. Everybody wants to see that but let us bring it to Galway in a manner which can be done in consultation with the various stakeholders that will not impinge on farmers who are going about their daily work on their farms when there are alternatives that could be considered. I ask the Minister - in all sincerity - to meet those landowners, explore the alternative options and see if we can reach a compromise to advance this project to the next stage and have what we all want, a greenway from Dublin to Galway in the very near future.
We are probably ad idemon this. We all want to see this greenway developed and brought to fruition. It is just a matter of the best way of doing that. There is a process already being shaped by my Department for the development of greenways and difficulties of this sort. Specifically, my Department will consult all stakeholders in the coming months. This proposed strategy will include the recommended approach to be taken by authorities and agencies tasked with delivering greenway infrastructure where engagement and consultation with landowners is required and, when finalised, will inform the approach to be taken when talks are resumed on the delivery of the section of the Galway to Dublin greenway between Athlone and Galway. It may have been paused but it has not been halted. I can assure the Deputy of that.
Engagement with the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, and with other stakeholders will be a necessary part of the process in seeking to resolve the issues of concern which have been identified to date. In addition to identifying and agreeing a preferred route, potential levels of compensation to affected landowners will be examined. The Department will look for guidance to the compensation package put in place to enable the TII and the local authorities to deliver national road schemes.