Tuesday 20 August 2019

Planning board rules against Michael Ring-backed project

Minister Michael Ring. Picture: Maxwells
Minister Michael Ring. Picture: Maxwells
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A Mayo tourism development that has received €300,000 in grants from local TD and Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring has suffered a setback from the planning authorities.

The latest grant of €118,000 was released to the planned Kiltimagh Velo project last year, even though it had been referred to An Bord Pleanala by rival campaigners for a greenway on the site.

An Bord Pleanala ruled last week that plans by Mayo County Council to develop the old railway line into a tourist amenity with pedal-powered carriages is not exempt from planning permission, a decision which is likely to increase the cost of the project. However, work that has already been done on the project does not require planning permission.

The setback for the project comes just weeks after the developers announced an additional Leader grant of €198,000 to cover the costs of the carriages, a website and signage. This follows two grants of €180,000 and €118,000 approved by Mr Ring.

The velorail has been under construction for two years, but most of the money has been spent on clearing and preparing the site.

The project ran overbudget by €147,000 because of unforeseen problems, such as subsidence to the railway line.

The minister approved the €118,000 grant to contribute towards the over-run, reportedly despite warnings from his civil servants that doing so could cause "problematic precedents".

IRD Kiltimagh, which has been developing the project, thanked the minister for his "insight and vision" and "unwavering support for the velorail project". They say the project will make a contribution to the economy and increase employment in Kiltimagh and East Mayo.

However, a rival group, Western Rail Trail, led by Brendan Quinn, wants to see the railway line between Athenry and Collooney developed as a greenway. It was Mr Quinn who referred the Kiltimagh Velo plan to An Bord Pleanala.

The velorail project involves running pedal powered carriages on the closed railway line, and was inspired by similar developments in France.

IRD Kiltimagh estimates it will attract 30,000 visitors a year.

Padraig Philbin, head of tourism, recreation and amenity at Mayo County said: "Mayo Council welcomes the decision of An Bord Pleanala regarding the velorail tourism attraction proposed at Kiltimagh. It gives clarity and we are pleased that An Bord Pleanala has confirmed that works completed to date are exempted.

"The Council is looking to advance the project through our planning process as soon as is reasonably practicable."

Sunday Independent

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