Cycleway land war intensifies as CPO gets go-ahead
IT was to be an economic lifeline that would inject cash into a rural area devastated by emigration and destined to be on the bucket list of big-spending touring cyclists and walkers from all over the world.
But the planned Glenbeigh to Renard Greenway, along an old railway line on the stunningly beautiful Ring of Kerry, may be derailed - costing the local economy millions.
Some landowners along the 27km route are considering legal action because of a decision by Kerry County Council to go ahead with a compulsory purchase order (CPO).
Fewer than 10 of the 120 landowners affected are opposed to the idea of walkers and cyclists passing near their properties each year.
The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), which got involved in the row in recent weeks, says the majority of farmers, though in favour of the greenway, are resolutely opposed to the idea of compulsory purchase.
Kells farmer Morgan Lyne is in favour of the greenway, which transverses his land at three separate locations. He believes the development would provide opportunities for local employment in tourism that would at least give his daughter and her peers the option of staying in the area.
But Mr Lyne is vehemently opposed to the idea of a CPO which he says has "soured" goodwill towards the project and has the potential to cause bitter divisions in the closely knit community.
At a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, an emergency motion by councillors Johnny Healy-Rae (Ind) and Norma Moriarty (FF), to remove the threat of a CPO for a period of one month to facilitate further negotiations with landowners along the route, was defeated.
Chief executive of Kerry County Council, Moira Murrell, warned councillors that the €4m project had already suffered delays, and unless the route was completed by 2016, the funding would be lost.
She said the CPO action, considered a last resort, had been suspended in December, at the request of councillors, to facilitate further negotiations, and now, two months later, it had progressed no further.
Kerry County Council is offering €1,500 per acre, but landowners say you would need to have 900 metres of the proposed five-metre track on their land to receive that amount.
Mr Lyne and his wife Pauline were among a group from south Kerry that travelled to Mayo to see for themselves the Great Western Greenway from Achill to Westport.
"No other greenway in the country has gone for CPO," Mr Lyne told the Sunday Independent.
"That's what I would prefer, some kind of goodwill payment to maintain the route that runs along my land, but to retain ownership of it.
"But Kerry County Council wants to go the CPO route against the farmers' wishes, instead of negotiating properly and reaching a mutual agreement," he added.
Pat O'Driscoll of the IFA says that the imposition of CPOs has already caused a backlash.
"People feel they have ownership of the land, it's an Irish thing, but they were willing to talk to the council. With the CPO, everything is now backed up and who knows where it will end," he said.
Councillor Johnny Healy-Rae, who moved the emergency motion to delay the threat of the CPO, said he was disappointed it was defeated. He fears there will now be an oral hearing, legal action, and the money will be lost by delays.