Major concerns around the ongoing funding of the country's greenway programme have been raised by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

INHFA vice-president John Joe Fitzgerald questioned “the commitment by the Government to spend €360m per year in providing walk and cycle ways, with greenways being a prominent element of this”.

With county councils encouraged to expand existing greenways and develop new ones it is, stated Fitzgerald, “reasonable to ask who is going to be using them especially when we see the dramatic fall in numbers on prominent greenways such as the Great Western Greenway in Mayo.”

He said that while hotel availability has been cited as a possible factor in the falling numbers we should “also recognise that there is a ceiling on the number of people that will partake in this activity and consequently the offering should acknowledge this fact.”

Greenway ambitions

It was “vital" that the Government recognised that its greenway ambitions could be running out of steam and maybe the funding allocated here could deliver better outcomes if spent on our national road network or other projects.

"On this basis we are asking that the Government carries out a cost benefit analysis on the greenway programme prior to the start-up of any new projects.”

The INHFA leader also expressed major reservations around the approach taken by some county councils when looking to acquire land for their greenways.

He added that we have “seen enormous pressure applied on local residents to acquiesce to greenway routes that will impact heavily on their farming enterprise, undermine their privacy and cause significant distribution in accessing their homes and businesses".

Compulsory purchase orders

This pressure he continued “has seen landowners threatened with the possibility of compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and guilt-tripping people with the line that this will be good for the community and do they really want to hold up progress”. With regard to CPOs, Fitzgerald was adamant that “this option should never be used for greenways as they are not a critical infrastructure.”

In relation to proposed greenway projects, the INHFA vice president stressed that "county councils need to look again at how they deal with landowners and communities” and detailed the need “for active ongoing engagement.”