A proposed route for a cycleway, or greenway, between Galway and Athlone is causing concern for a number of landowners who say that the ‘preferred corridor’ identified could divide their farming enterprises.
One farmer, 27-year-old Aoife McCabe from Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, told Agriland that she, and three other landowners in the area – whose farms could face division – feel like they are in limbo, currently.
Aoife farms in partnership with her mother, breeding purebred Zwartbles, commercial sheep, and horses. She also runs Atlantic Stables. A 27-acre block of land is situated within the preferred corridor identified by Galway County Council.
She is calling for greater consultation between the council and her family on this greenway proposal. There has been no direct communication with, nor have they had their concerns addressed by, the council since two initial consultation meetings took place in February, she said.
But, according to Aoife, other households in the area have been contacted by the council.
She also claimed that an in-person meeting took place this week between a council representative and these households, but her family was not informed or invited.
“We were bemused to get a call from our neighbour to advise us that they were meeting a project engineer to discuss the location of the greenway – across our land – behind their houses, yesterday evening (Wednesday, May 20),” Aoife told Agriland.
She said her father attended this meeting anyway, but only due to the fact that a neighbour informed him that it was taking place.
“We have yet to be contacted by anyone in relation to this project, which affects me and my family directly. Yet, they chose to contact others – thankfully, my good neighbours – to discuss the location of the greenway on our land.”
She also said she is sceptical that an underpass or overpass – both of which have been suggested by the council as solutions – would be feasible due to the cost involved in construction.
This week, Galway County Council announced that they would meet Aoife and her family, and other impacted landowners, in early June.
But this meeting announcement is not satisfactory, Aoife told Agriland.
She said she has been requesting officials to meet with her, and the three other landowners separately, so they can discuss their genuine concerns, the options available to them, and what their rights are.
Aoife is worried that the longer the process continues without direct communication with them, the likelihood is that her farming enterprise will be negatively impacted and land will be acquired by the council through a compulsory purchase order (CPO).
No-one is refused a meeting
But director of services at the infrastructure and operations unit, Galway County Council, Derek Pender, told Agriland that nobody will be excluded from discussion and debate around the proposed greenway.
The preferred corridor encompasses a 200km route, which means there are many people to meet and voices to hear.
“It is important to point out that, at this stage of the process, all that has been identified is a “preferred corridor” not a specific route.
“Within that corridor, there are many possible routes, so as of yet, individual landholdings have not been finalised,” he said.
In relation to the potential division of Aoife’s farm, he responded:
“There is a route that would sever their land, we are not looking to do that. Our preference is, always has been, and always will be, to skirt around the boundaries of properties, where we possibly can,” he said.
“We are not in the business of severing land and the difficulties that would bring to farmers. The land is a business to these people and we are not blind to that.
Lack of consultation
Addressing the charge of a lack of direct consultation with Aoife and her family, he said:
“They have been spoken to and were at a public meeting, there will be another meeting coming up soon, and there will be multiple individual ones.
“But you have to remember that I have a greenway that is potentially 200km in length and there are a lot of people to talk to between Athlone and Galway.”
“While we are not getting to everybody as quickly as either they or I would like, we will be getting to them.
“We are not just going to rock up and build a greenway without consulting with people, but there are a lot of landowners to deal with outside of Kilcolgan.”
He explained that the council has to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment report, which goes to An Bord Pleanála, in order to secure statutory planning consent.
“One of the rules of this statutory process is that all stakeholders – every single one of them – has to be engaged with multiple times, and that will happen,” he explained.
So far, in relation to private landowner meetings – within the preferred corridor – the council has had more than 450 face-to-face or phonecall meetings since January 2022. There have been three public consultations in total: one in August 2020 at four locations; a second, which commenced in January 2021, and looked at the five corridor options; and the third, which commenced in December 2021, and ended in February 2022, in relation to the preferred option.
Regarding the meeting that took place this week, that Aoife believed excluded her and her family, the director of services said:
“I hold my hand up there. That [council] individual should have contacted everybody down there. But the reasoning behind that was because the meeting had nothing to do with the McCabes’ land.
“This was to do with other property holders to see if they were amenable to it [greenway] going in a certain location. Those people then contacted the McCabes. In hindsight, they should have been contacted but that was going to happen next week. A situation like that won’t happen again and next time we will have everyone on in the one room,” he said.
The corridor at the centre of this Galway to Athlone greenway is, as mentioned, a ‘preferred’ one.
The final route within that corridor has yet to be proposed, and more importantly, agreed.
Of five initially proposed corridors, this is the one deemed to be the least constrained and contentious. But that doesn’t detract from the contention that is associated with it right now.
The director of services told Agriland that while there are particular constraints within the preferred corridor, in terms of one-off houses, land banks, the N67, “if we have to come up with an innovative way of getting around them or under them, then we are going to have to do that, or move completely away from them”.
This leads to the question of whether an underpass or overpass is feasible, or not, on the likes of Aoife’s farm.
“I have to deliver a scheme that has to deliver value for money, and the more of those types of structures that we get into the further away from value for money I am getting. But I certainly have not and will not rule that out. If an overpass or underpass is something that gets us over the hurdle, then that is what will go in.”
He said it will take about a year before a planning application will be made by the council to An Bord Pleanála.
At a recent presentation made by Galway County Council, the issue of land severance was raised. The meeting heard that “a greenway route can be very flexible and accommodating”.
“We expect that in the vast majority of cases, a route along a farm boundary can
be chosen, and severance of farms avoided. A route parallel to existing quiet roads is also feasible.”