Could new greenway face further delays over environmental impact study?

The greenway is along a 32km stretch in South Kerry.
The greenway is along a 32km stretch in South Kerry.

Anne Lucey

A full environmental study on the impact of a 32km greenway along a sparsely populated busy tourist tourist in south Kerry is needed, because of the sensitive nature of the landscape and the scale of the project, the planning board has ruled.

The Glenbeigh to Renard South Kerry Greenway, to run along the west Kerry branch of the old Great Southern & Western railway line was announced by then Environment Minister Alan Kelly in 2014, shortly before the local elections of that year.

But it is meeting with resistance from a small number of farmers and landowners concerned about land severance and potential interference.

Because agreement with all 170 landowners could not be reached, (the council initially estimated the number of landowners at 120) Kerry County Council is acquiring the land by compulsory purchase and that process is also underway.

The council sought direction from An Bord Pleanala as to whether its proposal would have significant effects on the environment, which it believed likely.

The greenway route is partially, though not exclusively, along the line operating between 1895 and 1960 and the land has been incorporated into farms and backyards and in some cases built across.

Around 29pc of the 32km route will be off-line into 'greenfield' lands.

The proposal is to construct a macadam road up to 3.0m wide for cyclists and walkers, with fencing and with access for crossing tractors and maintenance vehicles.

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Just a small section, around 1 km, will be shared with the N70.

The actual  works will involving the use of spectacular iron bridges and protected via ducts over Kells and Dingle Bay as well as old tunnels.

Scrub clearance as well as repair to the Valencia River and Gleensk Viaducts is needed. A new steel bridge 15 m long will also have to be put in between the two tunnels at Drung Hill near the Mountain Stage approach.

The proposal is to construct a macadam road up to 3.0m wide for cyclists and walkers, with access for crossing tractors and maintenance vehicles.

Just a small section, around 1km, will be shared with the N70.

It runs through designations of natural heritage , special conservation and protection. The impact on human beings of the greenway will be beneficial  but it will result in habitat loss  especially where the railway has reverted to semi-natural vegetation. The tunnel work will impact on bats and the off-line work could well uncover archaeological finds, the planning inspector, Michael Dillon noted.

“Impacts from this development are likely to be locally, and in certain instances, regionally significant. The area is not densely populated, but is heavily used by tourists,” he noted.

The board has ruled in line with its inspector. It has done so also because of the ecological sensitivity of the receiving environment including the Killarney National Park, MacGillycuddy's Reeks, the Iveragh Peninsula and the special areas of protection conservation of, sea, river and harbour - of the Caragh river catchment SPA, Iveragh Peninsula SPA, and Valencia Harbour/Portmagee Channel SAC.

The board also took into account roads acts requirements. The order will oblige the roads authority to conduct the assessment as County Council is going though the roads rather than the planning acts for the development.

A spokesman for the council said this week that the direction is unlikely to further delay the now already much delayed greenway .

Some of the assessment work has already been carried out by the council in planning the route, the spokesman said. The CPO process will also have to be dealt with by An Bord Pleanala, and the two will work in tandem, he added.

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