Public consultation on five potential route corridor options for the new Galway to Athlone cycleway project has just closed, with extensive engagement from the public and the farming community while landowner engagement is ongoing, according to Cian McGuinness, project manager RPS RPS| Consulting UK & Ireland.
His comments come as a number of farmers expressed concern to AgriLand about the plan. Suckler farmer John Hanley from Stoneyisland, Portumna, said that Stoneyisland is a small area with a small number of full-time productive farmers, some of whom specialise in sheep, horses and suckler calf-to-beef.
“The first I heard of the proposed Galway to Athlone cycleway was when my son met his friend a few weeks ago. He brought it to his attention that one of the proposed greenway routes would go through state-owned land and in order to continue the route, they are proposing to pass through our private lands.
“A leaflet through a letterbox is not an appropriate way to contact someone whose lands and business they are proposing to diminish.
We believe that allowing people be free to roam around would totally devalue our property. This is a busy agricultural area with a lot of movement of stock and machinery and the plans would disrupt our way of life.
“There are a number of local people who walk the roads near us. They respect us and we respect them. If we were overrun by cyclists, it wouldn’t be safe. We have made a submission to the project office and are waiting to hear back,” said John.
He said that neighbouring farmers had raised a number of concerns. “The proposed route goes along individual farmer boundary fences or goes through land which will affect the future possibility of farming or family wishing to build at a later date for future continuance of farm,” he added.
“Some of the farmers involved are small farmers and cannot afford to lose any land as this will reduce incomes. This whole issue is causing anxiety and affecting their mental wellbeing.
Our senior neighbours who are also landowners living on their own are constantly in fear and the worry of this has a huge unsettling affect on them as they are worried about burglaries.
“Deer control was also raised. At present all the farms have an overflow of deer from the forest crossing and grazing on their lands daily and this is a constant danger to all. Are fences going to be erected which are high enough to control them and prevent cycle accidents and possible death?,” John commented.
John added that there is concern in the neighbourhood about dogs attacking sheep and perhaps chasing deer and while the eagle and wildlife population was also mentioned, many wonder will the construction of the greenway affect or disturb their habitats?
“The lack of communication and consultation with landowners before the virtual meeting has been non-existent and disappointing as it shows a lack of respect for farmers and the business they carry out,” John continued.
“Internet quality in this area is poor and therefore most of the community are not on social media and only learned of this by word of mouth.
Control of litter is another issue. Already there is dumping of rubbish in the area; will this add to the issue as animals could die if they eat any waste? Who will reimburse the farmer in this instance?
“The proposed exit from the forest is on a dangerous part of the road and there is a visibility issue for road users. We are farmers not tourism operators, we have nothing to gain from this proposal but have most to lose,” he added.
Moycullen drystock farmer Michael Burke, who for the last seven years has been a member of the Connemara Greenway Action group and Galway Cycling Solutions, said the two groups had worked tirelessly to agree a solution with the department of transport and local councils on cycleways/greenways when it comes to farmland.
“It’s time that the departments and other groups stopped vilifying the farmer and creating this concept that farmers are against greenways. The issue here for landholders and small farmers is severance/division.
“Drawing a line on a map before there is proper consultation with landowners will almost surely create land severance or division. The powers that be say they will try to minimise severance but you cannot minimise severance. Severance is severance,” he contended.
“What is being overlooked in this discussion is the effect of severance for small farmers and landholders alike, the increased workload caused by having to manage junctions and having to reroute and rework the systems they rely on day-to-day, in the case of some, making the land unworkable.”
“The concern with the push of severance is the lack of foresight given to the knock-on effect that eroding our long tradition of small farming would have on communities and the very culture that is attracting tourism to Ireland in the first place,” Michael said.
“So what is needed here is proper consultation at the initial stages. The first port of call in a project like this should be with the landowners, long before it is announced to the public or lines are drawn on a map.
“In these negotiations, with their local knowledge, it is the landowners who would pick the route and agreement reached before going to the public. This is how it is done across the water in the UK and is proven successful. The department of transport’s decision to not follow the method of proven success and not include landowners in the initial plans, is a flaw in the process.
“A notice in the paper or on the radio telling landowners to contact a project team, that is not a consultation process and they need to be called out on such,” Michael contended.
“The department of transport and department of tourism have decided in their wisdom that they should build complete greenway that would accommodate a cycling network, when it should be a cycling network that would accommodate greenway for tourism.
This would be best achieved by looking at the Eurovelo system in Europe where the cycling network is built using existing low volume roadways with accommodation works for safe cycling, segregated safe cycling and greenway.
“The greenway sections should be built through public lands such as Coillte, ESB-owned lands, CIE lands, Waterways Ireland and other public bodies while being linked up using segregated cycling low-volume traffic roads and cycleways,” Michael said.
The project team is currently analysing all of the public consultation submissions received on the Galway-Athlone cycleway.
“Landowner and public consultation feedback will inform the next stage of the project, along with the ‘five S’ criteria: to be scenic, sustainable, strategic, segregated with lots to see and do, in conjunction with environmental, engineering, and financial considerations,” said the project manager.
“A preferred route corridor is expected to be developed later this year and will be the focus of another period of public consultation,” he said.
“The Galway to Athlone cycleway project will complete a 270km to 300km car-free corridor connecting Galway and Dublin. It will form an attractive amenity to be enjoyed by local communities and visitors all year round.
“The project is being delivered by the Galway, Roscommon and Westmeath local authorities in partnership with Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the department of transport. We have just concluded the second period of public consultation but we are always here to engage with landowners and other stakeholders, not just during formal public consultations,” the project manager said.
Addressing the landowner concerns on the Galway-Athlone project, he said: “Firstly, this is a new project with a completely new approach and we are very committed to working closely with each individual landowner and engaging with them to inform the design of this new greenway.
For this new project we are not necessarily looking for the shortest route and we will design the greenway around lands and farming activities to reduce impact on landowners. We aim to achieve this by maximising the use of publicly owned land for this greenway and then seek to link these areas by running along the boundaries between farms, rather than through farms. We will be actively engaging with landowners to achieve this.
“Feedback from landowners is vital to help the project team understand what farms are able to accommodate a cycleway and what farms are not. We fully appreciate that the project will only be delivered through engagement and collaboration with the farming community and this is our priority now,” he said.
A code of best practice for national and regional greenways is being developed in consultation with the farming representatives, IFA, ICSA and ICMSA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, to agree the process to be followed, Cian said.
“As recommended by the farming organisations, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) and the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), the project team has recently appointed an independent agronomist to ensure that landowners’ interests are captured.
“The independent agronomist, Philip Farrelly & Co. Agricultural Consultants, is available to landowners to discuss any issues or concerns that arise at this stage of the project,” he said.
“Later this year when an emerging preferred corridor is determined, farmers/landowners within the emerging preferred corridor may also independently engage the services of their own agronomist/property advisor to advise on individual agronomy issues and their landholding and the fees involved will be paid for by the project team,” said Cian.
“The project team is committed to intensifying our engagement with landowners and the farming community over the coming months. Once public health guidelines permit, our project liaison officers from Galway County Council, Roscommon County Council and RPS Consulting Engineers will be on the ground and available to meet people face-to-face.
“In particular, our project liaison officers will start to visit farmers, landowners in the consultation areas to explore possible route options there, and to talk through any issues or concerns. The objective is to find out how a route may be developed with the consent of the landowner, which is likely to be around the boundary of a land holding,” said the project manager.
We regularly publish new frequently asked questions that arise and the most recent queries have mainly been regarding land for the greenway on: www.galwaytoathlonecycleway.com.