Given the numerous cutbacks in Government expenditure, one has to wonder what is behind the recent announcement of the reintroduction of the Neighbourwood scheme.
Neighbourwood was suspended some years ago due, we were told, to a lack of funding.
Since the national finances are now in a far worse state than they were then, why have our lords and masters in the Department of Agriculture had this change of heart?
With the reductions to the road and reconstitution schemes, one would have thought that something along the lines of Neighbourwood would have been low on the priority list.
Perhaps it is because of yet more threats from the EU regarding our funding for community and environmental projects, or maybe political reasons.
Either way, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. In light of this, let us all make full use of the scheme for the very limited period it will be available.
Neighbourwood was and is an excellent initiative which provides funding for the establishment of woodland amenities in and around towns and villages. Initially, it received a lot of support and many excellent projects were drawn up prior to its suspension.
I understand that the terms attached to the reborn scheme are not quite as generous as the original ones, but they are still adequate to fund and maintain projects that will undoubtedly improve quality of life for residents.
When announcing the reborn scheme, Minister of State for Food, Horticulture and Food Safety, Shane McEntee, claimed it would provide a fantastic focus for community life and local spirit.
He added that the development of projects throughout the country would be a fitting celebration of 2013's 'Year of the Gathering'.
The accompanying press release added that Neighbourwood was an exciting package which supported the development of "close to home" woodland amenities for local people, and would be designed and managed through partnerships involving communities and local authorities.
"Neighbourwoods provide a natural wooded setting to visit and enjoy on a regular basis, for walking, relaxing, exercising and for excursions with family and friends.
"They also promote health and well-being and represent an ideal educational resource for people of all ages to learn about the environment and add to the local landscape and wildlife," the press release stated.
"Funding can be provided to local authorities and other groups to improve existing woodlands, develop new woodland areas and install suitable recreational facilities such as paths, signage and further educational facilities," it added.
"Ideally, sites proposed under the scheme should be located in or near a centre of population, including a village or town, with good linkage to other amenities.
"This will maximise the social, recreational and educational benefits of the Neighbourwood as it develops as part of the local landscape."
Now, this is all undoubtedly great stuff. Tidy Towns committees and other groups should set about drawing up plans for projects that will fulfil the requirements and get their proposals in to the Department of Agriculture at Johnstown Castle Estate, Co Wexford before the deadline. It is currently set at 5.30pm on Monday, August 20, 2012.
There cannot be a town or village in Ireland that would not benefit from further amenity planting.
Excellent booklets have been published by the Department clearly outlining all the essential requirements of Neighbourwood.
It has been extremely well thought out and aims to ensure that the establishment of small woods and pathways close to urban areas will enhance the environment, but won't compromise the safety of those enjoying such amenities.
It provides for clear sight lines through groups of trees and includes further planning precautions to ensure that antisocial behaviour will not be facilitated.
Planting that is initiated and managed by local communities is always best, as when local people take ownership of their trees, vandalism is greatly reduced.
Well-planned planting also adds substantial value to houses and estates and the Minister can take a pat on the back for re-introducing this wonderful initiative which, if well supported and properly funded, will hopefully benefit from an extension to its existing tight deadline.
For further information on the scheme and access to application forms, visit the Department of Agriculture's website at www.agriculture.gov.ie