Farmers affected by greenways ‘not treated properly’

Local councils are not treating farmers involved in greenways projects fairly, the Ulster Farmer’s Union (UFU) has warned.

The 25-year greenways plan will ultimately see a 1,000km public access route (621 miles) for walkers and cyclists webbed across Northern Ireland.

The scheme, which is expected to cost £150 million (€169 million), originally aimed to see disused railways converted into public access routes. However, in some cases the land is now used for agriculture.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has expressed concern over the process followed by local councils when negotiating the acquisition of land for the development of greenway projects across Northern Ireland.

UFU legislation chairman, James O’Brien, said: “Farmers are not anti-greenways. We recognise the environmental benefits they can bring, such as helping to prevent soil erosion.

“We also understand the role they can play in developing tourism, and the economic benefits increased visitors can make to rural areas.”

‘Failing to engage’

He added: “However, we are keen to ensure that all farmers affected by such projects are involved at an early stage and treated fairly throughout all stages of the planning, development and construction phases.

“With local authorities failing to engage effectively and collaborate with farmers, the UFU believes that the success of greenway projects is limited.”

The UFU said land-owners impacted by proposed greenways should have their rights safeguarded.

The farming body is urging local authorities to ensure that land-owners are consulted in advance of route selection and the publication of a preferred route corridor.

Voluntary agreements should be made with land-owners and no land can pass to the ownership of local authorities without the consent of the original landowner.

He added: “When selecting a desired route, local authorities should consider protecting and limiting any potential impact to any farm business.”

‘Public land first’

O’Brien explained this could be achieved by ensuring any available public land is used first before looking to acquire land that is privately owned.

“Any loss of income resulting from exclusion in farm schemes should be fully compensated,” he said.

“Local authorities should consider arranging a series of public meetings as the project progresses, in order to allow landowner queries and concerns to be addressed.

“Our message to local authorities is clear – not engaging meaningfully with farmers and land-owners at an early stage will ultimately lead to the demise of greenway projects.”

The UFU has suggested the appointment of a dedicated project liaison officer on each project to help ensure landowner queries and concerns are addressed correctly, and restore landowner confidence in such projects.