Talk of greenways putting farmers “out of business” and “destroying” farms is over the top — coming from the the Irish Farming Association, it’s also irresponsible.
The Connacht Tribune reported yesterday on a meeting of farmers which discussed the Galway to Dublin greenway. The newspaper said that Galway IFA Chairman stated that there would be absolutely no cooperation from farmers for this project until the word CPO (compulsory purchase order) was taken off the agenda.
“[CPOs have] involved ESB lines, gas pipeways and new roads but to destroy a commercial farm for a walkway is just something that farmers will not accept. This is not critical infrastructure and there are alternatives available,” said Pat Murphy, Galway IFA Chairman.
The Great Western Greenway (pictured above) shows that such routes can coexist with farming work and access, and enhance country life. Local people living in the countryside are given a safer place to walk and cycle — young children can cycle to their friend’s house or even possibly to school. While CPOs were not used on the Great Western Greenway, the route has been compromised a number of times over disputes with the council which has nothing to do with the greenway.
Greenways are too critical to be treated like this and allow the safety issue of forcing families and other unexpecting users out onto busy, narrow, high-speed roads. Just as it controls the road network, the State must control the National Cycling Network.
It is a misconception that compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) are only to be used for “critical infrastructure” (a term used for such infrastructure which can bypass the normal planning process). CPOs can be used for any project by authorised state bodies where the projects are clearly for the public good. Walking and cycling routes are clearly for the public good and, in this case, the Galway to Athlone section of the road is for the national good.
The greenway could even be described as a critical link at the western side of the Dublin to Galway route, which uses the Royal Canal towpath from the Liffey in Dublin to Mullingar in the midlands, and then the disused Mullingar to Athlone railway (see map below).
The Dublin to Galway greenway is clearly for the public good — it has massive tourism potential which will be a boost to the national economy and local areas all around the route. This can range from international tourists cycling the whole way from Dublin to Galway, to international and domestic tourists cycling shorter distances while staying in local hotels or B&B, or just day trippers who stop in local shops and cafes.
It will also have local and regional health benefits in offering residents near the route an attractive place to walk and cycle away from roads with fast, polluting and noisy motor traffic.
It does not stop there. The route also has the potential for short and long distance commuting by bicycle. Typically the commuter would be mid-short distances — think commuting into Galway city, or commuting into Athlone, or one of the many towns or villages along the greenway.
Why would people go by bike? Maybe they would be students going into Galway or Athlone and want to save money. Maybe an office worker wants to get fit. Or any number of workers wanting to avoid the stress and congestion of Galway’s traffic.
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There’s many reasons — a greenway can offer people a way to unwind after work, or it can be an alternative to infrequent, costly and limited public transport.
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The Connacht Tribune also reported that the Galway/Mayo IFA regional officer Roy O’Brien said: “It is quite simply, totally unacceptable that farmers could face into a situation where their lands could be dissected with this Greenway route. This would put some farmers out of business – an alternative route must be sourced, most probably along the side of the old N6 Galway to Dublin road.”
O’Brien seems to know little about greenways and his words are misleading to the IFA’s members and others. Old national roads are not suitable for a greenway aiming to offer walking and cycling away from motor traffic and, in fact, in the most stunning landscape possible.
It’s unclear how he thinks that a greenway, which is only a few meters wide, could have such a strong impact as to put farmers “out of business”. We’re talking about the width of a very small road — while the IFA reps are making it sound like a motorway of nearly 40 meters wide, with no level crossings, and no chance of using the route for farm access. This is far from reality of such cycling and walking routes in this country and elsewhere.
The best way to ensure the least impact on farms is to engage with the planners of the project. Objections to CPOs in the courts should not be looked on well if the farmer or other landowner has not engaged in the planning process.
If a farmer is worried that the walking and cycling route will split their fields in a damaging or overly inconvenient way, they should make their case to the route’s project team. If critical farming links would be cut off by the routes, measures should be put in place so that does not happen and the route diverted if needs be.
If they are not listened to then they can make an objection when the route goes to formal planning to be approved or not. It’s only after that process, when the CPOs are issued a legal can challenge be made. So, a lot of stress and money can be saved by engaging now.
Built right, walking and cycling routes should can be designed to enhance access to fields and farms. The Netherlands offers examples of this on a large scale — where routes double as access roads and rather than needlessly having tractors on main roads.
Farmers should also be be rightly compensated for any lands compulsory purchased by the State. This not only includes the value of land but also future income which would be lost because of the CPOing of that land.
If any TD or councillor wants to stand up for farmers, they would be right to look for fair and reasonable payments, and good access to farmland. But it would be wrong to try to exclude the use of CPOs and it would be worse to try to get the State to pay an excessive amount.
Rural groups and representatives talk about the west of Ireland being neglected and underinvested in. Greenways are an investment in rural Ireland and this greenway is an important tourism link for the west of Ireland providing an offering for short stay guests to long-stay, high-value tourists who will cycle on planned routes to western Galway and even onto Mayo and possibly Sligo and further north. It’s a link of great national importance.