Application to adjourn Kerry Greenway hearing rejected amid highly-charged debate

The Kerry Greenway is designed for 1,500 cyclists and walkers a day
The Kerry Greenway is designed for 1,500 cyclists and walkers a day

Anne Lucey

There were fraught and at times emotional contributions at the resumed hearing into the South Kerry Greenway Project along 32km of an old rail line skirting the N70 Ring of Kerry on Friday morning.

An application on Thursday, day three, to adjourn proceedings to allow a group of 27 landowners to study hundreds of pages of errata and new information on environmental impact of the project introduced by the council has been refused.

Senior Kerry County Council planner Tom Sheehy flatly contradicted claims by farmers, including the IFA, opposing the move by the council to compulsory purchase their lands there had been a lack of consultation and the council’s approach had been to “bulldoze” through plans for the greenway since it was announced in 2014.

“Kerry County council a engaged and continue to engage right up to the start of this week, he said.

Mr Sheehy said “an example” was four adjacent landowners all in agreement at the start, but after five months of continuous negotiation they could not agree on a route with the council.

“Five months and at the end, we still did not reach agreement.” Other landowners with which they had previously reached agreement then changed their minds.

The council was dealing with 160 private agricultural landowners. “It is still the case the majority of the 160 agricultural landowners are in favour. Twenty seven are not. A number of these stated to me “you will never take an inch of my land and you will never get it,” Mr Sheehy said.

However, IFA chair Pat O’Driscoll said a little bit of softness in the council’s approach would have gone a long way. They had refused until late in the day to appoint an agronomist and the council’s approach had been “heavy-handed” and divisive.

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They were given an undertaking by the originators of the project, the South Kerry Development Partnership - there would be no CPO, he said.

However council’s legal representative said this was a different body to the council.

The IFA is also questioning whether greenways are included in the definition of public roads under the roads acts, which forms the basis for the application for the project as a whole.

“Our contention is greenways or blueways are amenity crossings through private lands,” Pat O’Driscoll said.

Cahersiveen shoe shop owner Deirdre Garvey, who returned with her family to the town, said the greenway was “an extraordinary opportunity, for the ordinary people” of south Kerry, but it was not a yes/no facebook project.

She urged a more “nuanced” approach, to accommodate the concerns of landowners and to compensate them properly. The hearing itself was a factual process but it was very hard to remove the emotional side, she said “when you are speaking of a person’s home place and land,” capturing what is a highly charged process.

“It’s a pleasurable project. It’s a leisure amenity. It shouldn’t be unpleasurable for people along the greenway line. I don’t want to benefit from something if my neighbours are black-guarded in the country,” Ms Garvey said.

She received a spontaneous round of applause from the room.

Earlier, refusing the application for an adjournment, Ms McBride said the job of the hearing was to gather information and it was up to the board to assess the environmental statements.

However Michael O’Donnell, barrister for landowners, said proceeding was prejudicial to them.

Environmentalist Peter Sweetman said he had done more hearings than anyone but the volume of errata by the council and new information was the biggest he had ever seen.

Dozens of people are travelling up to 70 km each way, each day from south Kerry to the hearing in Tralee by car. There is no direct public transport.

The closure of the railway in 1960 had been opposed and had brought increasing emigration and decline, the hearing has been told and re-opening it was a route back, supporters including former Ceann Comhairle, John O’Donoghue, have submitted.

The hearing continues next week, when information on the application to inquire all 222 pieces of land by Compulsory Purchase Order under the powers of the Housing Act will be looked into.

The prospect of legal action including a judicial review of proceedings has been introduced by environmentalist Peter Sweetman. There has also been a threat of defamation action arising from an allegedly derogatory remark by a county councillor in support of the project that landowners opposed to the CPO but being for the Greenway, were being “disingenuous”.

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