Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Compulsory Purchase Orders
I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter on the Adjournment. As this is my first opportunity to formally do so, I congratulate her on being appointed as a Minister of State and wish her the best of luck in her portfolio. I know she will do a great job, as she has been doing since her appointment.
I have been contacted by a number of farmers in Galway East who are concerned about the status of their land in light of the announcement of the Dublin to Galway greenway. There is no doubt that this greenway will be a welcome addition to east Galway and its landscape but when completed I believe it will bring a large number of tourists to the area as greenways have done across the country. It will help revive the towns along this route, which is very important to the businesses and the communities in Galway East. It will create many jobs in local economies around Loughrea and adjoining areas. However, there is a genuine fear of the compulsory purchase order, CPO, process and its potential to impact detrimentally on the constitution of farmers' lands. The powers associated with CPOs have always been used with regard to the construction of public utilities including canals and railways in the past and while the use of compulsory purchase orders is a wide-ranging process, they are often seen as draconian in nature. However, it would be very difficult to progress any national infrastructural projects without them. The Minister of State might clarify the position with County Galway and inform me if it is expected that CPOs will be required to progress a greenway.
I thank the Senator for raising this extremely important issue and allowing me the opportunity to discuss the important Dublin to Galway greenway.
The economic and social benefits to local communities from the delivery of greenways in their locality is fully recognised by my Department. The issue of greenways is of particular interest to me as it crosses all three areas of responsibility in the Department, namely, transport, tourism and sport, as well as other areas of rural development.
One has only to look at the success of the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo to see how facilities such as these can revitalise our rural areas by bringing new visitors from both home and abroad to areas of the countryside and towns that may not have previously attracted visitors in great numbers. People using these greenways will need somewhere to stay, to eat and to socialise, and this will have a positive ripple effect on local businesses supplying their needs.
In recent days I had the privilege of attending a presentation on what greenways can do for the local economy. A bicycle hire business is now employing 26 people in a very rural part of Ireland. Some 26 people in any employment is a significant number. The Senator would be delighted if we were able to bring small factories employing 26 people to a rural area, and this is how we can do that. Apart from the multiplier effect, the creation of 26 jobs in a rural area is very welcome.
The provision of incentives or compensation to landowners affected by the construction of a greenway through their lands is a matter for the local authority in charge of delivering the specific project, given that the consideration of any such payments can substantially increase the cost of project delivery.
It is important for local landowners to note the positive impact the greenways will have on their locality when negotiating on price with the developers of such greenways and to remember that there are other route options available to progress the project. It is important to note also that the development of greenways needs to meet the requirements of cyclists and walkers and that the straightest or easiest route is not necessarily the best route to attract users.
There is no point in building greenways if not enough people use them. We must route greenways to ensure they provide connections to sites that attract tourists, have reasonable gradients for all users, connections to towns and villages with public transport, and a good experience with nice views for users along the route. That is the logic that has been followed by the National Roads Authority and Westmeath County Council, which is leading the project, in identifying the preferred route options from Athlone to Galway. These preferred routes were the subject of public consultation recently in County Galway. I understand that useful discussions were had at the public meetings and this will be reflected upon in the coming months.
I also understand that a second round of public consultation days will be held early in 2015 when the preferred route will be displayed for information and further public comment. Following the second public consultation, the comments received will be used to evaluate and refine the preferred route. A detailed design of the greenway will then be progressed, which will define the extent of the lands required. An environmental impact statement and compulsory purchase orders, if required, will be prepared and subject to funding will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála for approval by the end of 2015.
In general terms the following sets out the Department's views with regard to the various options that can be considered in delivering greenways. The permissive access model which has been used for the Great Western Greenway is a worthy mechanism for certain cycling and walking projects, particularly on a local level. It is a low cost community-based model that provides access to the natural environment without interfering with the property rights of the landowners concerned. In many cases, the landowners become champions of the project, supporting the role of the local authorities and the work of agencies such as Fáilte Ireland.
In terms of the best land access models for greenway delivery, the use of publicly-owned land is advantageous from the perspective of reducing costs. Negotiated permissive access, from the perspective of cost and public ownership, continues to have value but for the projects of national scale, consideration must be given to land purchase by agreement or, if necessary, by CPO.
The process of obtaining permissive access is resource intensive and I would have my doubts that such a process could be deployed on projects of national scale such as the Dublin to Galway greenway where agreement would need to be secured with hundreds or more landowners.
Greater investment of tens of millions of euro in the case of the Dublin to Galway greenway is now being provided and it would be precarious to rely on permissive access where the associated agreements may be withdrawn at any time without recourse to the State. As I stated, it will be a matter for all developers of cycling infrastructure to consider access to land on a case by case basis and to take a multi-criteria approach in the route selection process. The key consideration should always be to select an approach that will maximise the future use of the amenity concerned.
In the context of developing major cycling infrastructure projects that traverse long sections of privately owned land, such as the Dublin to Galway greenway, I fully support the need to consider negotiated financial agreements or, if required, CPO. However, I recommend that all other options are considered before land purchase is decided upon.
I thank the Minister of State for the response. As an avid cyclist I am delighted that there will be a greenway in Galway given that I spend much of my weekends on a bike trying to work off the calories I put on during my week here. I acknowledge the benefits of it to the local economy, as the Minister stated. All that is left to be said is to encourage the farming community to engage in the consultation process under way.
It is prudent that the community is involved in the negotiations and whatever consultation process is taking place, it is very important that the community is aware of it. I understand the concerns of landowners about CPO. It causes consternation in communities when we do very large infrastructural projects. However, having listened to all the considered opinions of the locals on the greenway, it is in the main a positive and much-desired tourist project which will be a win-win for everybody in the community. I encourage the Senator to talk to the landowners and try to get them on board because it will be a positive development.