Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The Boyne greenway has the ability to become the most important greenway in Ireland. It is internationally recognised for having a large concentration of very important heritage sites. The Boyne Valley has Brú na Bóinne, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It has Trim Castle, the Hill of Tara and the site of the Battle of the Boyne. There are dozens of smaller important historical and heritage sites there. What is the progress in the development of the greenway? This has been going on for years.
It is a sightly complicated greenway. It is different from some of the others. I understand that Meath County Council is progressing the greenway as a joint greenway and river navigation restoration project. We are only responsible for the greenway part. However, the council put the schemes together, which makes it slightly complicated and different from other greenway projects. My Department and TII have no role in respect of the river navigation aspect. Questions on that issue will have to be directed to Meath County Council.
That said, we need to start looking at greenway projects as the significant infrastructure projects that they are. They must follow the same public spending code and project management guidelines as roads and hospital projects and, therefore, progress can, unfortunately, seem slower than anticipated. However, progress is being made on this important project. The Boyne Valley greenway was granted funding by my Department in July 2020 under the carbon tax funding and received the highest allocation from the €4.5 million fund. It received €750,000 towards this project. TII has allocated €100,000 towards progressing this project in 2022. The total spend to date since this project was initially funded is €739,559.
TII is now responsible for the management of greenway projects and I understand that Meath County Council issued a draft phase 2 options selection report to TII in May this year. TII has, as normal, carried out a peer review of this report and raised several queries with the local authority. I am informed that a response is being prepared by the local authority and will be issued to TII shortly. TII expects that the emerging preferred option for the greenway will be published by the local authority in quarter 4 this year. It is likely that the phase 2 gate review process will not be completed until early 2023.
At this stage it is not possible to give an indication of when the greenway will complete construction, given the steps needed to be taken and the uncertain timeline for planning approval.
There is a different understanding of time in the context of how the administration of this country works. I passed a motion almost 14 years ago at council level for this particular project and it still has not come into being in any real way. It is amazing. The tourism potential of this project is massive. The Minister knows that cycling and walking tourism are taking off around the world. Walks in northern Spain and Ireland are drawing down tourists. Meath is ideally located. It has a high concentration of important heritage sites. The Boyne Valley is also a beautiful location. Is there any way we can decouple the greenway project from the river navigation element if that is holding up the process? Will the Minister put his energy into the development of the greenway to ensure it happens in our lifetimes?
I mentioned the river navigation aspect because my officials said to me that it slightly complicates matters. That is an issue that Meath County Council must consider. However, that should not stop us. I agree with the Deputy that the time it takes us to deliver transport projects is too long and deeply frustrating. We often engage in public consultation and then it is only years later that something materially happens. We also have real problems in our planning system that lead to delays and projects being held up. That is not to say we do not need proper planning but it sometimes makes things very expensive. That is not in the interests of citizens.
I agree that the greenway route has considerable potential. It was given that funding of €750,000 in recognition of that. It is certainly a tourist route but all these routes are also for local use. The greenway would connect Navan and Drogheda.
That is an important link. With e-bikes and so on, people would be able to use that as a real connection. I agree that we need to speed things up. The Deputy should address with Meath County Council why it is dealing with the project in that way.
Unfortunately, tourism in Meath at the moment consists of a coach tour from a Dublin hotel to visit Newgrange and Trim Castle,before returning to a Dublin hotel for dinner. There is little left for Meath in terms of income. Walking tourism allows for people to stay within a location for five, six, seven or eight days. Their visits can include bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels and restaurants. That would allow for value to be left in the locality where those facilities are. I agree entirely with the Minister about the transportation benefits. Ideally, this route would be brought down to the source of the River Boyne, which would cross over and connect with the Royal Canal greenway. Another greenway is being built from Navan to Kingscourt. That would allow for a network of transportation links in that part of Ireland, allowing people to travel to the whole country from this particular region.
I have previously raised this matter with the Minister. There is considerable potential in this project. The Minister has put his finger on the issues. I and the Mayor of Navan, Councillor Eddie Fennessy, have met Meath County Council about this matter. It a Gordian knot of complexity because of how the greenway is linked with the navigation project. The environmental piece and the reinstatement of the old navigation way make the situation complex. Those aspects need to be separated.
I commend the activism of the Navan Cycling Initiative. I encourage the Minister to meet its representatives. They are championing these projects. The two aspects of the project need to be decoupled. The Department has a role to intervene to move the project along. It needs to be kick-started and delivered. It also needs to be extended to Trim.
TII has a key role here. It is very good at delivering infrastructure. It has been doing it for several decades. It has delivered motorways and other programmes. It is systematic in its approach. Deputy Tóibín is correct that we should extend the route from Trim to the Royal Canal greenway, which would result in mesh networks. Many people will go for a 60 km, 70 km, 80 km or 100 km spin on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Those longer routes where greenways join up will be used. We must think strategically about a national cycling network as well as ensuring good local use. As the Deputy said, the Boyne greenway could connect to the Kingscourt greenway.
Each one that connects up benefits the others. My Department is very aware of the complication in this particular project relating to the navigation piece being joined up, which is why it was part of my response. I am interested that the Deputies seem to have a similar view. We will push to try to get it built as quickly as we can.