'Where is out vital greenway?'

Four years on from its heralded arrival, locals are ever more divided on the project. Sinead Kelleher reports

Four years ago Minister Alan Kelly turned the sod on the South Kerry Greenway.

The very same day he travelled to Waterford to turn the sod on a similar greenway. 

The Waterford Greenway is now open in a project widely seen as  having revitalised the region. In its first year it attracted almost 250,000 people in a massive economic boost for a number of rural communities hard hit by the recession.

But four years on and the proposed route of the South Kerry greenway remains completely unchanged with the project mired in an increasingly divisive dispute between Kerry County Council and a number of local landowners.

No less than the Waterford Greenway played out, the South Kerry Greenway is also expected to transform the South Kerry economy according to the local community. The multi-million euro project is 'essential' for many in South Kerry - who are all too aware of how it will likely transform the area.

 As with all projects there is some dissent, now mainly focused around the use of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the land, rather than with the project itself. This dissent, however, is causing tension in the local community.  

It is an issue that is now increasingly dividing the region and many The Kerryman contacted on the matter this week were, in fact, unwilling to discuss it for fear of falling out with neighbours who are against the CPO. 

There is disquiet in the area about asking questions about the project - some concerned about drawing attention to the lack of progress, others concerned at causing a divide. There is also clear frustration at the lack of progress from both sides. 

"We'd like to know at what stage we are at. We are all waiting for dates. We would like to see it move on," says businessman, Matt Quirke. 

For him and other business men the project is nothing less than a 'lifeline' for South Kerry. 

"It is a no-brainer. It is the only future for South Kerry. It is a life-line," Mr Quirke told The Kerryman.

The greenway, he says, would create much needed employment for the area which in turn would bring home those who emigrated anticipating opportunities in an area that has been decimated by lack of employment. Such a homecoming would revive GAA clubs, local schools and local businesses, all of which will ensure the future of the region. 

"I can see the long-term overall picture of everything. It is the future of the area. Whether they're selling water, or tea-rooms or accommodation, everything is a spend. Tourism is the only way for us. We are not going to get industry back again. We have something unique here and it is our turn to get something." 

Mr Quirke said that while there are issues the Council must come to an agreement and move the project forward. 

"Nobody expects it to go through their front door or back door. The council can get a solution around it."

"It is major undertaking for the Government and the council.. All the businesses here would like to see it not just here in Cahersiveen but everywhere. It could be the Amalfi coast of Kerry!" 

Businessman Colman Quirke also feels that the South Kerry Greenway is the only project that will save South Kerry. 

"South Kerry has suffered more than most areas its population has declined by 20 per cent in the last 10 years. A huge problem for us is the loss of manufacturing employment and the loss of income from the raw materials for that manufacturing. That was a huge amount of money per annum gone from the area," he explains. 

The greenway is "essential" as the area needs to reinvent itself and become a tourist destination.

"We have a tourism industry but we need more in order to reverse the trend. The greenway is not just important it is essential. It is our future. Tourism is our future. I feel strongly that if the Greenway comes other things will follows suit.  He too is critical of the lack of progress and says that people do have the right to object. 

"Nobody wants it shoved down anybody's throat." 

Kieran McCarthy had to emigrate in the 1980s and for him the greenway will reverse the trend of emigration.

"The only way to survive is on our natural amenities and the greenway is a natural amenity. We don't want to say in 50 years that we could have had a greenway and we didn't."

Further down the road in Kells and Foilmore - the area where landowners are most affected by the project - the views tend to be more mixed. While Kerry County Council own much of the land at Mountain Stage - the Glenbeigh area of the project - it is the landowners in Kells and Foilmore who are the owners and custodians of the land.

One of these is Morgan Lyne, whose land is affected at three distinct locations. He is willing to compromise on two of these locations, but the final site poses huge difficulty for him as an area he described as suitable for construction on which they would hope to build in the future. 

The greenway would render them "worthless" were it to run through this site, as is currently mooted under the proposed CPO. 

Morgan stresses that landowners are not against the project, but that the CPO process is the biggest single issue of concern for them now. 

In a 2011 feasibility study undertaken at the time by the SKDP it was stated that the CPO was not compulsory and that alternatives would be found. This is not how it has transpired. Kerry County Council maintain that it is the only way to move the project to fruition as 100 per cent agreement would otherwise be necessary -seen as an impossibility amid so many different interests.  Landowners, however, say that it should be built in consultation with them. 

"At every meeting alternatives were put forward but they were shot down," says Morgan. "There has been no contact for 12 months. We are at an impasse."

The Kerryman reported last week that the IFA is now calling, on behalf of some of its local members, for the appointment of an agronomist to mediate the business of finding a solution.

"In 2015 we were told that it would go to CPO and that the project would be completed and here we are in June 2018 and no closer than we were in 2015. 

"If they had come with a proper approach on day one there would have been a resolution."

He said that concerns about machinery have been raised and claimed they were largely ignored and that underpasses are also being shot down as not viable. They are used in other greenways and are expected to form a major part of the GST extension into North Kerry - which is now going to planning having won the support of a number of local landowners once opposed to it. 

For Pat Kavanagh of Kells Foilmore IRD the Greenway is vital and will transform the region, providing much needed employment to keep the next generation at home in Kerry. 

"It is a life-line for the future. It guarantees our future. The sooner it is past the post the better."

Kerryman

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