Thursday, 7 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Today I want to talk the concept of greenways and blueways and I want to start by referencing to the Waterford greenway. We all know the Waterford greenway, which has become a destination greenway. People go to Waterford, stay there and utilise the greenway. I want to talk about how we can replicate that and create a destination greenway in County Louth. I want to give some of the context to greenways in County Louth.
County Louth has been ahead of its time in developing greenways. I will not use the word like “trendy”, but they have become popular in the last couple of years. County Louth was developing the Carlingford to Omeath greenway in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It was quite ahead of its time in terms of the local authority trying to prepare that. The current state of greenways in County Louth is we have a greenway stretching from Carlingford to Omeath. We are currently in the process of building one from Omeath to the Northern Irish Border.
On the other side, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is building a greenway from Newry to Victoria Lock to meet our greenway at the Border. That is a good example of cross-Border co-operation. We have seen many small indigenous companies spring up around greenways. That is why they are so good. They bring business to an area because they obviously bring people to an area. These are businesses like those providing electric scooters. In Carlingford, for example, companies have sprung up that provide day packages and picnics for anyone who wants to go on the greenway.
That is the context of greenways in County Louth. What is the long-term vision? My long-term vision is twofold. I would love to see the concept of Louth coastal greenway. Louth is so well placed in terms of its geographical area. We are an hour north of Dublin and an hour south of Belfast. Approximately 2 million people live in this region between Dublin and Belfast on the island of Ireland. We are so well positioned in terms of such short trip to make a real business case for something like this.
My goal and long-term vision is to see that coastal greenway stretching from Drogheda right up the coastline with a wonderful view of Dundalk Bay, the Mourne Mountains in County Down, the Cooley Mountains in north Louth, stretching through Blackrock, Dundalk and on out to Carlingford.
Naturally, this is a big project and big vision. Louth County Council is focused on trying to get patchworks of the greenway together. What can Government do to try to help local authorities with that and to find out what about the big picture here? It is a ten to 15-year project. There is no point saying that it will be magicked up anytime soon. How does Government help with the strategy?
I grew up playing on the Navy bank walkway in Dundalk. It is one of the most idyllic walks in Dundalk. However, it leads to a dead end. The big, long-term goal there is to connect that up with some sort of a greenway walkway from the Navy bank in Dundalk to Blackrock, which is a picturesque village outside of the town.
One of the reasons we cannot apply for funding for the greenway yet is that huge amounts of money are required for CFRAM studies. We have to reinforce the sea barriers between Dundalk and Blackrock. Until those CFRAM studies are complete and the sea barriers are built, we cannot put in for planning permission for a greenway. It is a chicken and egg scenario. Until that is done, we cannot get permission for a greenway along there.
This could be huge. We could have our whole country connected by greenways. We are doing that and Louth is a place to start.
I raise the concept of blueways. In County Louth, we have the River Glyde and the River Fane. These are underutilised aspects of tourism. We are only starting to realise the benefit of it now. I would love to know the Government’s strategy to encourage local authorities to promote and to get blueways going.
I thank Senator McGahon for giving me the opportunity to talk about greenways and blueways, on behalf of the Minister for Transport.
It is important to note that the development of greenways in County Louth is first and foremost the responsibility of Louth County Council, which the Senator referenced. The county council should liaise with Transport Infrastructure Ireland as it has recently taken over the responsibility to develop the roll-out of greenways under the Strategy for the Future Development of National and Regional Greenways. Urban greenways and active travel infrastructure is within the remit of the National Transport Authority. There is a bit of a grey area with cross-Border greenways and Louth County Council should continue to work with the Department of Transport in that regard.
Blueways are a matter for Waterways Ireland. It is not a body that comes under the remit of the Department of Transport. As I am sure the Senator is aware, Waterways Ireland comes under the auspices of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which was my old Department, and does a lot of good work in terms of blueways.
The Department of Transport currently funds two greenway sections in County Louth. First of all there is pre-construction funding of €200,000 that was awarded in 2020 from the carbon tax fund for a section from Carlingford to Templetown. The Department is also a co-funder of an INTERREG project for the Carlingford Lough greenway section that runs from Carlingford to Newry. A design team has been appointed for the Carlingford to Templetown section and it has commenced baseline data collection for the project that will go towards informing the route options.
The Carlingford Lough greenway, which is the Omeath to Newry section, is a joint project between Louth County Council and the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and East Border Region that is co-funded by the EU INTERREG programme. The project will deliver 12.35 km of greenway. In 2018, a 3.5 km section was completed in Northern Ireland from Victoria Lock to join the greenway from Newry. Three further sections are being completed: a 2 km section from Victoria Lock to the Border; a 4.2 km section from the Border to Omeath; and a 2.65 km section from Carlingford to the marina. Tender documents for the main construction contract are being prepared for issuing on completion of a planning application in Northern Ireland. There are several other greenway sections being planned by Louth County Council, including the Great Eastern greenway, the Louth Coastal Way, a Dundalk to Sligo greenway and the Boyne greenway.
It is important that Louth County Council engages as early as possible with landowners who might be potentially impacted by a route, and that the county council carries out as much work as possible ahead of the next funding call so that it is well positioned to be awarded funding. The county council should engage with as many stakeholders as possible, particularly the National Parks and Wildlife Service to avoid any potential environmental problems.
In terms of future plans, Transport Infrastructure Ireland has recently commenced work on developing a national cycle network. I note the Senator's comment that small and indigenous companies spring up around greenways and how greenways bring a lot of economic viability to an area. So they are worth creating. The key is to get Louth County Council to work with the TII on developing new greenways. There will always be calls for further funding for other construction projects, under the national and regional greenway projects, to which the county council can make submissions.
I thank the Minister of State. I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of Louth County Council. In particular, I pay tribute to Mr. Pat O'Rourke as he was ahead of his time and advocated for greenways a decade ago when they were not the done thing or seemed to be quite difficult to create when one took into consideration the trouble with compulsory purchase orders, and engaging with landowners. The county council has been really good about greenways and its response has been excellent. It is good to see that we have a good long-term vision for greenways not just in my own county of Louth but across this country, for example, links with the Great Eastern greenway.
The plans are great, aspirational and ambitious. However, I want to make sure they are on track and are not aloof or faraway ideas of nice things that we would like to do. The Minister of State has said that the way for us to do that is through continued engagement between the officials in Louth County Council, the National Transport Authority and such like. I hope these long-term ambitions come to fruition so that we can all see and enjoy greenways in County Louth in the years to come.
The Senator is correct that it is important to have ongoing collaboration and engagement between the various different agencies, in particular Louth County Council, with Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
As I said, two greenways are being constructed - Carlingford to Templetown, and Carlingford to Newry. Blueways are a matter for Waterways Ireland and it is worth Louth County Council engaging with Waterways Ireland when it comes to developments.
As the Senator alluded to, the Louth coastal greenway would be of huge benefit to the entire area and allow users to view their surroundings from Dundalk to Carlingford. The project is long term and is not outside the bounds of possibility but could be considered. Again, such projects are about engagement and collaboration.