Tuesday 27 September 2016

Perhaps Cups Of Tea are more beneficial than CPOs?

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 11/11/2015 | 02:30

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe

I was disappointed but not surprised to hear the development of the Galway/Roscommon stretch of the coast-to-coast greenway has been stopped or, to use the slightly more hopeful term of Paschal Donohoe, the government minister concerned, "paused".

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Disappointed, because I believe that cycleways have much to offer to rural Ireland and this help is badly needed. Teagasc figures for 2014 show that 37pc of Irish farms are economically viable. In the southeast, the figure is over 50pc while, in the west, it is just 16pc.

Outside of farming, tourism is the only realistic and indigenous option to generate income in many rural areas. Fortunately, it is also labour intensive and can provide much-needed employment to local communities, including farmers and their families.

However, in recent months, there were reports of farmer opposition to this particular stretch of cycleway and then, into the pot, came the mention of Compulsory Purchase Orders.

For many farmers, this is a red rag to a bull; they feel their livelihood is being wrecked just for someone else's convenience or recreation. This hostility is not exclusive to farmers but, perhaps because of the long hard battle that people went through in this country to secure their land, it is particularly strong in the farming community.

CPOs have had plenty of airtime the past 20 years due to the construction of our various motorways.

Indeed, I wonder if it could be argued that motorways have largely been responsible for giving CPOs a bad name, in the sense that they have generally transmitted little positive economic or social benefit on the areas they traverse.

A 3m cycleway will cause nothing like the same disruption as a 30m motorway. Though part of the problem may actually be that the amount of land being lost is too small, in the sense that the rate of compensation might be attractive but the overall compensation is not. So perhaps there needs to be more focus on ongoing farmer involvement/interest in greenway maintenance?

The argument often against using CPOs for cycleways is that they are not essential infrastructure. But while they might not be essential in a purely practical sense, perhaps it could be argued they are now critical in an economic one?

Moreover, I have no doubt there are lots of affected people who would be quite happy to have CPOs involved because they support these developments. In cases, the majority are silent; they are unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet out of a reluctance to anger/upset their neighbours.

However, even if CPOs were to be employed, they are not without problems, not least the fact that they could be challenged, involving considerable cost and delay.

Ask any farmer for help at an individual level and their generosity is almost boundless. But it's a different matter at societal level when the personal connection often gets lost.

Perhaps the preferable route to CPOs is Cups of Tea (COT); talking to people at an individual level, listening to them and dealing with their genuine concerns.

As for farming groups and local politicians, they are always ready to jump on a bandwagon. Will we ever see the day when a farming group or politician stands up and says, 'this is a good idea, let's all pull together and find a way to make it work for everyone'?

For now, the focus will be on finalising the Kildare/Meath section of the project which, according to the Minister, "will allow time for all to reflect on the issues raised."

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